Well before tuffet-sitting Miss Muffet began advocating whey, the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained had a long history of medicinal claims. Hippocrates called it a “serum” and used it as an immune system booster. In the 1870s, The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion documented whey’s application as a treatment for the flux, otherwise known as dysentery. Later in the 1930s, it was used to treat tuberculosis patients in San Quentin prison. And, of course, today whey fills the shelves of supplement stores like GNC. Packaged in pill and powder forms, with names like Wheybolic Extreme 60 and Amplified 100% Whey Performance, it comes with the promise of muscles swollen to perfection.
Less common are whey drinks, small bottled beverages the likes of which you’d imagine a child sipping at the breakfast table. In fact, before Husk’s bartender Roderick Hale Weaver began his business, Weaver Family Whey, he only knew of one other whey drink company. “It’s called White Cow Dairy in New York,” he says. “They’re a yogurt company that’s been around for years and their byproduct is whey. They don’t sweeten it. They flavor it with some ginger.”
White Cow’s whey drinks are marketed as tonics described by Tasting Table as having “a lacto-fermented pop of healthy bacteria” — a smoothie meets milk/juice blend. And the business has done well, marketing the beverages in places like New York City’s Murray’s Cheese shops. But it wasn’t until a failed cocktail recipe and a little encouragement from a writer that Weaver got to thinking about making his own way with whey.
Initially, the bartender was intrigued by the texture the opaque liquid provides. “It’s like drinking milk without the fat. The texture doesn’t have the weight of milk, so it doesn’t coat your mouth,” he explains. Thinking whey could make a natural mixer, Weaver’s curiosity got the better of him. “I like to take things that are super healthy for you and fuck ’em all up to make a cocktail,” he says. Which is how he found himself messing about with a hot milk punch recipe from Mr. Boston: Official Bartender’s Guide. After leaving it overnight he says, “When I came back the next day it had separated on its own. That gave me the idea to try that method to get the whey out and it worked.”
His first hit with a whey cocktail was at the Rodney in Exile fundraiser for Rodney Scott following his pit fire. Weaver served up a whey drink for the barbecue guru’s fundraising event. “I used High Wire vodka and whey with orange. We called it a Shaded Whip,” says Weaver. People seemed to like it. “I put in on the menu at Husk and it was very successful.” In fact, it was so successful the Wall Street Journal‘s Matthew Kronsberg wrote a story about it. The reporter encouraged Weaver to keep experimenting with the milk serum.
That vote of confidence led Weaver to craft another whey cocktail, this one with grapefruit, for last year’s Hogs for a Cause. “I made the whey and the alcohol separately, then mixed them it up,” he says. “This lady said, ‘Do you have anything nonalcoholic?'” Weaver gave her the grapefruit whey and she was thrilled. “She said it was fantastic and she brought her friends over and they all drank it.” That’s when he decided to ditch the hard stuff and try to market his whey concoctions on their own.
Today, he has three flavors: Orange Grove (a blend of whey, orange, and honey), Coconut Cove (lime and coconut-flavored whey), and Pink Grapefruit (a mix of grapefruit and agave whey). In addition, Weaver has begun packaging his curds in an effort to avoid wastefulness. “Just like I’ve learned at Husk — from the rooter to the tooter on a pig — you use it all. That pig died for you. You might as well use every bit of it,” he says. The same goes for the milk he buys from a dairy co-op in North Carolina. Weaver is currently making a 24-hour dry curd, a 12-hour creamy ricotta, and a 24-hour mascarpone.
Those interested in Weaver’s curds and whey can find the products at Veggie Bin II, Minero (just grapefruit and lime), Bull Street Gourmet, Husk, and The Granary. For more info, visit weaverfamilywhey.com
Stay cool. Support City Paper.
City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.