The magic of curds, whey

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When you picture Wisconsin’s top agriculture products, what comes to mind? For many, it may be cheese, cranberries, snap beans or even ginseng. 

Did you know that Wisconsin is also the leading state in the production of dry whey? No way, right? Yes, whey.

Dry whey is often used in baked goods, processed cheese products, beverages and protein nutrient supplements.

In 2022, Wisconsin produced more than 270 million pounds of dry whey for human consumption, more than 30% of the nation’s total production, and is home to nine processing facilities that make and process the whey. 

As America’s Dairyland, it makes sense that we are a top producer of whey as it is a byproduct of cheese, casein and yogurt production.

In the cheese making process, milk is split into curds and whey. Curds are eventually made into cheese, and whey is drained off to be used in various products. Whey is typically watery, yellow in color, rich in nutrients, and contains lactose, protein, minerals and vitamins.

Whey can be used as an additive in cattle feed or purified back into clean water so it can be used again. To make whey powder, liquid whey is pasteurized and dried into a powder through reverse osmosis and vacuum evaporation.

Whey protein may be used to improve athletic performance and address nutritional deficiencies. However, with many protein options on the market, why choose whey? 

It is a complete protein, meaning it features all nine essential amino acids, or building blocks your body needs. According to registered dietitian Maxine Smith, in an article with Cleveland Clinic, “Amino acids are important for many functions in the body, from building muscle to creating new immune cells.”

The Cleveland Clinic article also shares that the amino acids in whey protein help with wound healing and that whey protein can be used as a source of protein for those who may not be able to get protein from whole food sources. The powder is easily added into foods and beverages as it has a neutral flavor, dissolves easily in liquids and provides a smooth texture. In fact, whey is beneficial to building muscle not only for humans but for other species as well.

When growing up in 4-H and FFA, I used to show performance horses that were trained three to five days a week. We sourced whey from Mullin’s Cheese and Whey, located in Mosinee, Wisconsin, to use as a supplement in our horses’ diets to help build and maintain strong muscles for halter and other performance-based classes. In this case, whey is an all-encompassing product which can be enjoyed in many different forms.

Whey protein can also be used in baked goods, processed cheese products, sauces, dressings, prepared meat products and beverages, and acts as a binder and extender in food products. Additionally, demineralized whey protein can be used in the manufacturing of diet foods, baby foods, dry prepared mixes and other food products that need specific mineral requirements.

The next time you drink a protein shake, use salad dressing or even eat a piece of bread, check the label and see if the ingredients include whey. Consuming whey products is a great way to support Wisconsin’s dairy farmers across the country and in Wisconsin farms.

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