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"What inspired it was a cook of mine. He was drinking Yoo-Hoo on the line," Jessica Koslow, owner of LA's Sqirl told me over the phone. Jessica asked to read over the ingredients list, and then she decided it was about time she made her own version of the drink, memory lane's beverage of choice—except she used what she had on hand: Lots and lots of whey leftover from making the restaurant's famed ricotta.
SQIRL-HOO We made a drink full of 8-yr old kid nostalgia, with none of the crap you'll find by looking at a Yoo-hoo's ingredient label. It's a Sqirl-hoo, made from the left over whey from our ricotta and steeped with Bay Leaf & dark chocolate Valhrona cocoa powder. Shaken and served. Sucking thumb is optional. It's exciting. It's cool.
The kitchen at Sqirl makes a lot of ricotta, either daily or every other day. That leaves them with a lot of leftover whey, the liquid strained from the ricotta curds. They use that whey the same ways we use it: Some goes towards the next batch of ricotta, some they mix with lemon juice and butter for their polenta's broth, some they use for braising or add to pasta sauces. But there's still more whey than Sqirl knows what to do with—and, Jessica told me, she feels a real responsibility to use it: It's a valuable ingredient, and she's all too aware of how important reserving and recycling liquids during one of the most serious droughts California has had to deal with (even though you can't water your plants with ricotta whey without diluting a lot it first, since it's quite acidic).
We already thought Jessica was a genius—check out her genius-approved crispy rice salad—and now she's found a drink that puts some of her whey to good use, makes it an ingredient as opposed to a byproduct (which we love): She steeps it with bay leaves and cocoa powder, shakes it up, calls it a Sqirl-hoo, and pours it all frothy into the glasses of thirsty Sqirl patrons (kids and "kids" alike).
Jessica's adaption may be a bit more complex than its inspiration—thanks to bay leaves, Valrhona chocolate, and, you know, dairy—but it's immediately recognizable: "People have such a sense of nostalgia about it," Jessica said.
How do you use your ricotta whey? Tell us about it—or your 8-year-old self's preferred beverage—in the comments.