We’ve all recited the nursery rhyme Little Miss Muffet (oh you know you did…) but how many of us knew back then what on earth were the “curds and whey” she was tucking into (not to mention the “tuffet”)?
In the cheese making process, milk is separated out into solids (curds) and liquid (whey), usually with the aid of some coagulant. The curds are slippery, white and somewhat gelatinous feeling. They taste very acidic early on in the cheese making process, and then mellow out as the lactic fermentation comes along. Curds may be left large or cut very small, depending on how much whey the cheese maker wants to expel (i.e., how dry or moist they want the final cheese to be).
Curds separating from the whey
The whey looks like cloudy, yellowish water. It tastes exactly like milk, and is full of nutrients. Most cheese makers recycle the whey from their cheese making process. If the cheese maker owns pigs, for example, they may feed them the residual whey. Parma hams, for example, are made from pigs fed on the whey from Parmigiano Reggiano. Other cheese makers convert the whey into ricotta, or cottage cheese, fully extracting the last milk solids from the liquid. But more often than not, the whey ends up being distributed over the farmer’s pasture, fertilizing the land the dairy herd will end up grazing on once more.
As for tuffet? I think it’s just a fancy term for “grass mound”.