In the grand tradition of turning lemons into lemonade, Jennifer Anderson, head yogurt maker at The White Moustache, brought home some whey one night after work to whip up a party-ready punch, sweetened with honey and lime.
Her boss, The White Moustache owner Homa Dashtaki, was impressed.
“Homa tried it and said, ‘This. We’re bottling this,’” Anderson remembered.
It was a solution to the problem that plagues yogurt makers. Upstate, at the Fage factory in Johnstown, it takes four pounds of milk to make one pound of Greek yogurt, and the company pays farmers to cart away the remaining three pounds of watery byproduct, whey. Some will spread it on fields or mix it into livestock feed. At large scale operations like Fage and Chobani, dumping whey isn’t an option. Not only is it illegal, but whey is toxic in the water system, choking water of oxygen which in turn kills fish and plant life. The quest to find another use for whey has left yogurt makers scratching their heads, but hitting on something that will sell, like The White Moustache’s Probiotic Tonic, is just good business sense.
“We use good milk, which is expensive milk,” Anderson said. “By the time we strain the yogurt that’s basically half the product down the drain. So it’s environmental and financial.”
The bacteria that’s so bad for the water is good for our guts, and parts of the world have a long whey-as-wellness tradition. Since the 1950s, the Swiss have sold a fizzy whey drink called Rivella. In Dashtaki’s family whey was called yogurt water, and the kids fought over who got to drink it. But the idea is still novel here, where the liquid at the top of yogurt can elicit an ick face.
So Anderson is constantly dreaming up new recipes for the whey. Last Thanksgiving, The White Moustache sold five-gallon buckets of whey as a turkey brine, to which Anderson added garlic, thyme, peppercorns and bayleaf.
“It was insanely delicious,” she said. “The skin browned more readily, the meat was really juicy. The pan drippings were just amazing. It’s sort of this umami twang. I made the best gravy ever.” Anderson’s next kitchen project is Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread with whey in place of water, following her success making pizza dough. How’s this for the best elevator pitch uttered by a baker? “It tasted like a sourdough without all the work,” she said. Sold.
Brand-spanking new pineapple and passion fruit are now hitting shelves in time for the next heatwave, when we can all take a cue from Anderson, who scours the Red Hook factory’s walk-in cooler for leftover bottles on the most sweltering days. “It’s sort of like Gatorade but all-natural,” she said. (She also suggests chugging it as a hangover cure.)
But in the months of rooftop parties, we’re most interested in the cocktails preceding a hair of the dog. Before hanging up the phone, Anderson reads our mind. “Bring on the rum!” she says.
Oh, no need to worry. We’ve got the vintage punch bowl ready.
The White Moustache’s Probiotic Tonic is $3.99 for 16 ounces and is available at Whole Foods Brooklyn, Brooklyn Larder, Brooklyn Kitchen, Greene Grape Provisions, Good Eggs and is coming soon to Eataly. 1-liter bottles of plain whey sell for $5.99 at Whole Foods Union Square, and if you need more than that for a brine, Murray’s Cheese takes bulk orders for the 5-gallon buckets.
The White Moustache’s Daiquiri
Honey adds a warm sweetness, and the whey itself gives the drink a hint of creaminess.
Makes 1 drink
2 ounces silver rum
4 ounces White Moustache Honey-Lime Probiotic Tonic
Lime wheel for garnish
Fill a highball glass with ice. Pour in rum, followed by Honey-Lime tonic. Stir gently, garnish with lime wheel, and serve.