OSU researchers propose new 'whey' cheesemakers could cut waste, - KPTV - FOX 12

OSU researchers propose new 'whey' cheesemakers could cut waste, make vodka

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Photo courtesy OSU. Photo courtesy OSU.

Cheesemakers could craft vodka while also reducing waste, according to new research at Oregon State University.

As much as 90 percent of milk that goes into a cheese-making facility comes out as whey, and is often tossed into landfills, which is expensive and could harm the environment, researchers say.

Some, namely larger, companies turn the whey waste into protein power or other nutrition-enhancing products–but the equipment needed to do that is too expensive for most smaller, artisanal creameries.

Another option is to use the whey in vodka, researchers suggest, which could add value to the business and help the environment.

“Even though some energy is required to transform whey into vodka, there is still a huge environmental gain by not disposing of it through waste streams,” Lisbeth Goddik, a professor of food science and technology at OSU said.

A handful of companies are already producing “vodka from whey” products, and Goddik, along with Paul Hughes of OSU’s fermentation science program, says they are conducting research on flavor characteristics of different wheys and the sprits they produce.

Most of the whey produced in the United States is sweet whey, Goddik says, which comes from the process of making cheddar, mozzarella and Swiss cheeses.

Acid whey is produced by making cottage cheese and Greek yogurt, and its disposal is particularly challenging–but not when it is converted into alcohol, according to researchers.

“Both types of whey ferment and distill beautifully, Hughes, who leads the distilling program at OSU, said. "Our chemical flavor analysis suggests some differences between the two wheys and eventually we hope to isolate more of the chemical compounds and match them with flavor characteristics."

Researchers say the impact on waste reduction could be dramatic.

Oregon is home to 22 artisan cheesemakers, according to OSU. Washington has around 70, and nationwide, there are approximately 1,700 small cheesemakers.

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