Westby Cooperative Creamery, Westby, Wis., said it invested $1 million as a “whey” to become more resourceful in its cottage cheese-making process.

“Being the only cottage cheese manufacturer in Wisconsin, the creamery takes great pride in turning its farmers’ milk into something that’s both good for you and good for the environment,” Emily Bialkowski, sales and marketing manager, said.

Westby Cooperative Creamery said demand for its cottage cheese has continued to grow over the years and, in turn, so has the byproduct of cottage cheese — acid whey. In making cottage cheese, approximately 14% of the skim milk is turned into cheese, and the remaining is acid whey, which can be difficult to dispose of. Before March 2020, the creamery was able to sell all the acid whey, but since then the market has made disposal of acid whey very difficult.

With the uncertainty in the future of this byproduct, Westby Cooperative Creamery made the decision to process the whey at the plant by installing equipment that filters out the protein, solids and water. The creamery invested $1 million into this project and, in turn, expects to process 6.9 million gallons of whey in 2022.

Doing so allows the creamery to sell the filtered material in a more desirable form to a wider customer base. The whey is turned into two usable products — permeate (as animal feed) and protein, which gets sold and is often used as an ingredient in nutritional supplements, the company said. It is the goal of the creamery to eventually re-use the water consumed from filtering acid whey.

“As a dairy cooperative with over 145 small family farms that make their living off the land, we have a responsibility to actively research and invest in practices that help better our environment and the communities we live in. Turning acid whey into a usable product is one way we can do this,” said Pete Kondrup, general manager.