Why You Knead to Save Your Whey

June  7, 2015

Even if you’re doing your best to cook root-to-leaf and nose-to-tail, there are probably still some edible bits you’re missing. Every other Sunday, we'll focus on one overlooked scrap, and show you how to turn what would otherwise be trash into a dish to treasure.

Today: Make ricotta; save the whey; bake this bread.


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If you’ve never made ricotta* at home before, you owe it to yourself to do so for two reasons.

First, because you will feel like a kitchen magician. Put three liquids—buttermilk, heavy cream, and whole milk—and a little salt in a pot, add some heat, and before your eyes, the pot of liquid will start to change into a solid. Well, part of it will anyway. Floating cheese curds will begin to bobble on the surface of your pot, at which point you are free to do a ridiculous dance around your kitchen while congratulating yourself on your culinary prowess. (Note: This should happen every time you make cheese, even if you done it a thousand times. It’s just like riding in an airplane: Just because you fly once a month does not make it any less magical.)

And second, not only do you get delicious cheese out of this process, but you also get whey—that’s the liquid left behind after you scoop out your cheese curds. If you’ve been making cheese or yogurt and pouring the whey down the drain, it’s time to stop. Whey has a subtle sweetness and is said to give bread and other baked goods a softer crumb (and, if you don't want to use it right away, you can also can freeze it and save it for later use).

More: Here are 11 delicious ways to use your homemade ricotta.

AntoniaJamesRicotta Whey and Barley Bread is a great way to use leftover whey. But make it once and you'll see it's really an argument for making ricotta just so you'll have whey to make the bread—the ricotta might be the leftover part. This bread requires three types of flour and wheat germ, honey and molasses, and a kitchen scale. Oh, and you have to make that batch of ricotta first, of course. But all of this is so very worth it. This bread is impossibly soft, yet also the exact right sturdiness for sandwiches. (I recommend toasting a slice and then topping it with the ricotta you just made.) And as for the flavor balance, well, there’s a reason AntoniaJames’ recipe box is littered with community picks, contest finalists, and contest winners.

*Linguistic sticklers: Yes, when we refer to homemade ricotta, our go-to recipe does not make ricotta in the strictest sense of the word, as true ricotta is made with whey. But because we don’t want to saddle this poor cheese with a tongue-twister of a name like "Curdled Milk Cheese That Looks Like Ricotta and Tastes Like Ricotta But Isn’t Ricotta But is Still Better Than Any Grocery-Store Ricotta" (or worse, give it some unpronounceable symbol for a name), we’re just going to go ahead and call it ricotta. 

Ricotta Whey and Barley Bread by AntoniaJames 

Makes one good-sized loaf

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
43 grams of warm water
Pinch of sugar
235 grams ricotta whey
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a bit more for rising and baking
2 tablespoons warmed honey
2 teaspoons regular molasses
320 grams bread flour, plus a tablespoon or two for kneading, if necessary
100 grams barley flour
23 grams toasted wheat germ
19 grams rye flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Know of a great recipe in the Food52 archives that uses scraps (anything from commonly discarded produce parts to stale bread to bones and more)? Tell me about it in the comments!

First photo by James Ransom; second photo by Mark Weinberg

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • paseo
  • AntoniaJames
  • lapadia
  • Alan
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.


paseo June 8, 2015
I wish this cheese would be called what it is, which is a fresh cheese, but not ricotta. Ricotta is made with whey from making another cheese, lactic acid added and heated. Ricotta means twice cooked and the real stuff is not as rich or creamy as this product. All that being a given the whey left over is nutritious and worth saving and using.
lapadia June 8, 2015
It’s so true, paseo, traditionally; ricotta is made by reheating the whey by-product from certain hard cheeses. The home cook is not likely to be making some of the hard cheeses needed to get whey for ricotta making. However now days extracting curds from milk is a popular method for many home cooks.
Alan June 9, 2015
Personally, I'm of the opinion that if you have trouble calling this stuff "ricotta" then you should also have trouble calling the pies the serve in New York and (especially) Chicago "pizza"....
AntoniaJames June 7, 2015
I posted a recipe several years ago (selected by Merrill and Amanda for inclusion on, incidentally) that uses stale bread: . It probably does not use as much leftover bread as Dan Barber's rolls, but still, it's a great way to add flavor while using up odd bits of leftover bread. According to reliable sources, people have been doing this for centuries. ;o)
lapadia June 8, 2015
Great job, AJ!