Making Wine with Whey
June 21, 2010
Shallon Winery in Astoria, OR makes a cranberry whey wine that is really good. I had written before that he “touts the health benefits of adding whey to the wine… This wine is not milky colored at all, and it is another bottle we take home. He recommends adding a little bit of 7-up to it for the bubbles, which is also excellent. I’ve never eaten it with turkey, which I imagine it would be good with, but to do so would probably mean I would have to share, and I would rather horde his wines.”
This wine has been the inspiration of trying to make my own whey wine, and I have been researching and experimenting.
First off, milk sugars called lactose are not fermentable by traditional yeasts, but instead require microorganisms such as Kluveromyces lactis or Kluveromyces fragilis to convert lactose to alcohol. Therefore, powdered lactose is actually used as a sweetener in beer and wine, as the yeast will leave it alone, leaving a sweet product in the end. Lactose is not usually captured in cheese, but is left in whey. I should note, though, that it takes a lot of lactose to make it sweet.
My original theory was that a wine maker would start a batch of wine fermenting, and then add the whey later. My reasoning behind this is that the alcohol would hopefully prevent the whey from spoiling. I should admit that from my own farming days, we would keep milk for the baby calves at room temperature for a few days before it would finally start to spoil around day three. In fact, before refrigeration, people would have left it sitting out. So I know that this is possible, but I was afraid it would spoil before anything would happen. Also, would the government allow a wine maker to leave whey out at room temperature for that long? My theory was that if the whey was added in the secondary, it would possibly preserve the whey so it doesn’t spoil. Another theory I had running against it was that adding acid to milk makes it curdle, and even whey curdles with acid at higher temperatures, so what would adding whey to high acid wine do to it? So many theories running though my head…
It turns out that in 1977, the Department of Food Science and Technology at the Oregon State University conducted an experiment using cheese whey to make wine. The results were published in a paper titled Utilization of Cheese Whey for Wine Production. It takes about 10 pounds of milk (1.15 gallons) to yield one pound of cheese, which means that 9 pounds is waste, or a whey by-product. The most common method used to make this whey waste profitable is to dehydrate it into powdered whey to use as a food supplement. However, the 1970s saw an energy crisis, so dehydrating whey was expensive, and they were looking for other cheaper usable methods to use whey and realized whey wine might be the answer.
So, armed with a research paper that is most definitely not a how-to, I kept some whey from three of my cheese batches, mixed it with some cranberry juice, added potassium metasulfite to get sulfur dioxide released, and some yeast. It started fermenting. Let the whey wine making experiment commence!