Whey cheese is a dairy product made of whey, the by-product of cheesemaking. After the production of most cheeses, about 50% of milk solids remain in the whey, including most of the lactose and lactalbumin. The production of whey cheese allows cheesemakers to use the remaining whey more efficiently instead of discarding it as a waste product.
There are two fundamentally different products made of whey and called whey cheese:
- Albumin cheese, made by coagulating the albumin in the whey with heat and possibly acid: ricotta, mizithra, and so on.
- Norwegian brown cheeses, made by heating the whey to concentrate the sugar, and consisting primarily of caramelized milk sugar: mysost and the like. Since these are not primarily made of coagulated milk proteins, they are technically not cheese.
Cheese and whey cheese are distinct categories in the Codex Alimentarius. In the appellation system of the European Union, protected whey cheeses are included in class 1.4 for other products of animal origin instead of class 1.3 for cheeses.
Two different methods are used to produce whey cheese:
- The whey can be concentrated and then moulded. Cheeses produced with this method possess a relatively high lactose content. Typically they have a yellowish to brown color and possess a sweet, cooked, or caramelized flavor.
- Heat can be used to coagulate the whey and optionally adds acid. This type has a relatively low lactose content and a white to yellowish color. It is possible to ripen whey cheeses made with the coagulation method.
With both methods, the whey may be pre-concentrated prior to the further concentration or coagulation of the whey. The process may also include the addition of milk, cream, or other raw materials of milk origin before or after concentration or coagulation. Depending on the production method used, whey cheeses range from soft to hard consistencies. Fresh soft varieties contain a lot of moisture and expire quickly. Ripened hard varieties have a much lower moisture content, making them preservable for much longer.
The production yield of whey cheese is generally lower than ordinary cheese because whey does not possess as much nutrients as milk. Yield is dependent on the composition of the whey, the addition of milk or cream, the production technology and the composition (moisture content) of the final product. With efficient modern methods such as ultrafiltration, 10 to 20% of solids or more remain after the whey is mixed with cream and reduced.
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