Making Clabber and Whey from Raw Milk

Making Clabber and Whey

What on earth is clabber?  And why would I want to make it out of raw milk?

Well if you read my post from last month about why I choose raw dairy you already know the nutritional and digestive benefits that raw milk has over its pasteurized and homogenized counterpart.  But did you know that in addition to these benefits, raw milk also behaves very different as it ages?  While pasteurized milk goes rancid with time, raw milk actually sours and ferments into a completely different product, separating into clabber and whey.  [Keep in mind clabber is a noun meaning the final product, but it’s also a verb meaning the process of curdling the milk.]

The probiotics present in raw milk proliferate as it ferments, these are the good bacteria in our gut that play a huge role in our immune system.  They are able to partially digest the proteins and sugars in the milk, rendering them even easier for us to digest.  As the milk is broken down it separates into clabber, or curds, which resemble a cream cheese-like substance and the liquid is whey, which is rich in lactic acid.

What is whey really?

Having worked at a smoothie bar for several years, I originally thought of highly processed protein powders when I heard the word whey.  But traditionally whey is a byproduct of clabbering milk or making cheese.  The whey made from raw milk can be used in the lacto-fermentation process of vegetables like sour pickles or sauerkraut (more on that in posts to follow!)  It can also be used it to help soak and ferment whole grains or legumes before cooking, or taken on its own for its health benefits.

According to Hanna Kroeger in Ageless Remedies from Mother’s Kitchen:

“Whey is such a good helper in your kitchen.  It has a lot of minerals.  One tablespoon of whey in a little water will help digestion.  It is a remedy that will keep your muscles young.  It will keep your joints moveable and ligaments elastic.  When age wants to bend your back, take whey…With stomach ailments, take one tablespoon whey three times daily, this will feed the stomach glands and they will work well again.”

Many cultures have their own version of souring milk, in France cream is soured to make crème fraîche.  You’ll notice when you leave raw milk out that the cream first separates to a thick layer on the top.  If you let it sour with this cream layer undisturbed it will thicken on it’s own and resemble a crème fraîche-like substance.  You can carefully scoop it off the top to use it separately but I usually just mix it in with all the rest of the clabber as it makes it wonderfully rich and creamy.

Real Sour Cream

Instructions for clabbering raw milk:

1. Find a good local source of grassfed raw milk.  I love Organic Pastures based out of Fresno, CA.  Use the freshest whole raw milk available, pasteurized or homogenized milk will not clabber like raw milk does.

2. Pour the raw milk into a large, clean, glass container with a lid.  I used a wide-mouthed 1 quart mason jar, the wide mouth helps scoop out all the curds later.

3. Let sit at room temperature for 2-3 days with the lid loosely screwed on, I leave mine on my kitchen counter.  If it is not warm enough out you may need to use a very mild heating element to get it to the right temperature.  I’ve used an electric blanket with a very low setting, just set the jar on top while it sours.  Keep an eye on it but don’t shake or stir, it should start to separate within 1-2 days, if it does not then it most likely was not warm enough.

4. Once fully separated gently strain through a fine sieve covered in several layers of cheesecloth.  Do NOT press on the curds or squeeze the cheesecloth, let it sit until it stops dripping.  Then tie up the cheesecloth so the bag is hanging and once again let sit until stops dripping.  Save the clabber and whey separately in glass containers in the fridge, the clabber keeps about 1 month and the whey about 6 months.

Fresh Clabber

I already covered how whey can be used, but what about those curds?  They are delicious on their own, I like to add just a touch of maple syrup and a sprinkle of sea salt.  Spices like cinnamon and cloves are a nice addition and fresh fruit pairs well too.  You can also use the clabber like you would ricotta, even in a savory recipe.  I’ve been meaning to add sea salt and fresh herbs for stuffed zucchini blossoms…one day I’ll actually get around to doing that.

How will you use you it?


48 Responses to “Making Clabber and Whey from Raw Milk”
  1. Andi says:

    I left mine in a milk jug tipped sideways for 3 or 4 days and when I separated it, it didn’t smell good. Did I do something wrong, or does it just smell yucky?
    Thanks, Andi

  2. Noelene Harrison says:

    Please, I need advice. I’ve got beautiful, yellow, raw, organic milk from one lovely Jersey cow named Gracie. My fridge went out 5 weeks ago (yes-in this Missouri heat) & I’ve kept all her milk in 1/2 gallon Mason jars unopened. They look perfect; they’re airtight. I’m afraid to open them until I have jars to separate the curds & whey.

    Is there a way to tell by look or smell if it’s off? I’d appreciate any advice or info you can give me. Thanks in advance!

    Noelene Harrison
    Lebanon, MO

  3. Rhea says:

    Hi! I let my milk sit at room temp for 5 1/2 days as I did not think it was separating but when I poured it over the strainer and cloth it had. Now how do I know if it is okay or if that was too long? Also how long is it okay to leave it out for the dripping process? Thank you!

    • If you started with raw milk and it smells/tastes/looks okay then it should be fine! Just be careful if you see any weird-colored bits or if the smell/taste are off. It should be a fermented and sour flavor which is quite tasty. As for how long to let it drip, until it stops dripping, which should only take about an hour or so. Hope this helps!

  4. Randy Stine says:

    I’ve looked at several sites regarding clabbered milk, and while all seem to have the same instructions, yours helped me confirm my first try was spot on. I was afraid I’d let it clabber too long (about 3-1/2 days), but it looked like you said it should. My main concern was the thick yellow layer, and a very strong cheesy smell. Not gag-me-with-a-spoon odorous, but strong, almost Brie or Limburger cheesy. I scraped the yellow layer off and tasted it and there was a tang, but I found it very good. The next layer (creme fraiche?) was pretty mild and pudding like in texture. In the spooning off the different layers I realized I was scooping up the whey so I just dumped it all in a thin cotton tea towel and hung it over a bowl to drain. I’ll mix the curds together, yellow and white, like you suggested. Not sure how to use my curds and whey, but I guess I now have cream cheese and whey. Thanks again.

    • Glad to hear my article helped! I’ve found grassfed cream has a much more yellow color than that from grain-fed cows, especially when it ferments it can become a surprisingly bright color especially since the milk begins looking totally white, but it is just due to the good fats and fat-soluble vitamins in the cream, not any harmful bacteria. All of the probiotics in raw grassfed milk actually keep many of the harmful bacteria from growing. Especially after 3.5 days I’m not surprised it had a strong smell, but that’s good! It means lots of probiotics and beneficial lactic acid, which actually change the pH to the point that harmful bacteria really couldn’t even grow there if they wanted to.

  5. Valerie Glodzik says:

    I read in some book that the raw milk has to be in a container that is covered only with a towel. It needs air flow to keep it from smelling and tasting musty. “Musty” is the word used in the book, but it is a rather mild word to use considering the smell is absolutely awful. I did not taste it. It went to the garden.

    • Thanks for commenting, Valerie. I used a loose lid, not screwed on all the way, but I didn’t have that same musty problem. I always recommend that if your body says yuck/no then don’t force yourself to try to eat or taste something, but I didn’t have this problem with my clabber and whey. Mine just smelled sour and tasted like a tart yogurt which I enjoyed. It often changes depending on climate and temperature as well. I’d say give the towel cover a try and see if it works for you.

  6. Brent Golay says:

    Have you ever frozen the clabber for later use?

  7. Jennifer says:

    I read somewhere else that the air needs to be at 73 degrees for the milk to separate. If that’s the case, I have a problem then… it is winter by me right now and my place is very poorly insulated. Even with my electric heaters running, it doesn’t get past 65 degrees inside. I have some raw milk that has been sitting out for nearly 2 weeks now. It separated a little bit and seems to have stopped. There is still a large layer of milk sitting underneath a small layer of whey. Do you have any suggestions on what I can do? Will it just take a lot longer to separate? Is it even still good at this point?

    • Really not sure if it’d be okay after 2 weeks of sitting but if it doesn’t smell bad that’s a good sign! Even when it is warm outside my house stays pretty cool so when I made it I used an electric blanket with a very low setting and that worked great!

    • Robin Ripley says:

      I set my raw milk to make clabber milk in my oven with just the light on. Works great in the wintertime.

      • Jackie Kerr says:

        Love this idea. Thanks!!
        Still looking for more ways to use the whey and curds.
        That my mom and son will love.
        I haul raw milk from the farm, so we always have plenty.
        My chickens love the clabber/curds.
        I just want to get some of this gut benefits into my mom.

  8. Hal Richardson says:

    For the first 10 years of my life I grew up as a sharecropper son , one of 16 on farm in Mississippi . Life on this farm, although harsh by today’s metrics are some of my best momories.
    After the death of my parents the five younger children were shared out to various relatives. I am now 60 years old, a trauma surgeon and ex air force flight officer.
    God, fate life has been fair to me.
    The reason i am texting you is that your some of your articles have brought back many culinary memories. Although they went by different names in Mississippi, Once the aroma and taste of the clotted clotted cream and “clabber milk” hit my nose and tongue. I was a child again . Both good and bad. I (my brain and stomach) enjoyed the time travel.
    An interesting thing has happened to me. On the farm I can never remember anyone I know having milk or lactose intolerance. However, after leaving the farm and moving up north I could no longer tolerate milk unless it was consumed with large amounts of processed sugar like one finds in most overly processed cereals.
    As a doctor. I know my experience are just that, and do not constitute a study of any gravity. Also, I wil be the first to admit that humans are the only mammals that insist on consuming milk in it’s basic form after weaning. We tend to modify it for self life. But to my point. A year ago after reading some of your articles, I started buying “Raw milk” from a farm in Fresno CA. At first I was scared to open and drink it. I thought: “Well, my government put a band(most states for health reasons) on raw milk for a reason, who am I to questions their scientist. Well not wanting to wast money I drank my first “sweet cold” an eight once glass of raw milk in 50 years and nothing happened. A day later later I repeated my little one subject experiment. I cancelled my schedule and bought lots of toilet paper. Six, eight , twelve then twenty four hours later again nothing.
    Could it be that in trying to do good our government has again done harm with it;s wide spread restriction on raw milk. Yes I know that band has stopped the spread of many milk related illness. But as with most things in life. I have found that there is usually three side to every story. Yours, mine and the middle. The middle is usually where most truth lie. Just because it’s modern doesn’t always mean it’s the best.
    Not everything about raw milk and it’s product is good and not all is bad. Let me make my own decisions. For months now I have been consuming raw milk in all it’s various incarnations. By itself in a tall cold glass, but particularly clabber milk, the tangy lightly fermented Kefir and sweet “real” butter milk. The kind that is your by product when making butter. All of these have added or brought back new taste to my cooking. I freeze this an use it in all my baking.
    My two college age daughter and their friends have started to ask what different about the bread, pancakes, cookie and muffins I make for them.
    Continue your post. I find them on point and educational.
    Thank you for reading my rambling text.
    A NOTE: If you post this I want your readers to understand. My response or lack of response to restarting drinking “raw milk” might not be there own. I will note that as an experiment I stopped drinking raw milk and it’s by products for four days then I returned to regular store bought homogenized organic milk and within two hours of drinking an eight once glass I was again back in the bathroom. It wasn’t a pretty sight. For three day afterward I remained gassy and my patients would ask what’s wrong with my stomach because they could hear the grumbling.

    • My goodness, Hal, thank you SO much for your comment. This is one of the sweetest and most heartwarming stories I’ve ever received in my 8 years of writing this blog! I so needed a comment like this, during a time when I struggle to get new content up on the blog, this is SO inspiring and encouraging!! I am so very glad that you were inspired to try and have since been able to enjoy raw milk, it’s great, right?

      I definitely agree it should be legal, especially with the high standards many modern dairies have adopted, it can be completely safe. I think problem comes in when the government is responsible for keeping the public healthy, in so doing they have to keep their eye on so many different companies, most of which are trying to cut corners and lower costs. Processing milk can definitely extend shelf life and prevent certain diseases, but at that point it has so little nutritional value and actually causes harm to so many people, why consume it at all? I don’t believe dairy products are an absolutely necessary part of any diet, but if collected and handled properly they can definitely be a nutritious and delicious addition 🙂

      • Becky C says:

        I too, am using a fresh (organic), grassfed milk, from a local farm. My grand daughter and Iade butter (quick and easy in a food processor with a whisk type attachment, or on low). She loved it! I have trouble getting this little one to drink any milk, besides soy, but hate that its all processed. She loved the whey (?) That was left from the butter! We will be doing that more often!

        I am trying to find a yogurt, or something, that will allow me to use both. I may ha e found it here. Thanks!

    • Dee says:

      Hi Hal.
      I really loved reading your comments. I don’t have access to raw milk in NY and it is sad for me. I am a hobby researcher and an agriculturalist. (I’m trying to be a farmer) I understand why some are intolerant of processed milk, but not raw. It makes perfect sense when you connect to the truths of nature and accept what was given to us in it’s purest form!

    • Jim West says:

      The gov ban on raw milk is about monopoly control instituted in 1912 by milk monopolies in New York. It is also about giving the medical monopoly a piece of the pie. Pasteurization forces central regulation on milk and enables medical games. Related science:

  9. Maya says:

    Hi — Thanks for this blog post and all the comments and responses have been very informative! I bought my first raw milk this morning and an getting ready to set it out on the counter to “do its thing”. But I’m a little confused about the difference between clabber and curds. It sounds like both are poured into cheesecloth or a towel to drain off the whey, but then how does the clabber separate from the curds? Or are they just two different words for the same thing? Thank you so much for your clarification!

  10. Deborah says:

    Hi Jacqueline, I’m new to raw milk and have drank it Straight at room temp and made yogourt with it. When I saw your post I thought I’d put aside a small mason jar of it on my countersigned it seemed like a easy thing to do and I was excited about perhaps getting some whey to ferment some veggies or make some refreshing sodas. I suspect that it wasn’t warm enough because after 5 days it didn’t separate as obviously as it does in the pictures of clobber and whey that I googled. The top layer looked right. Yellowish with some bubbles. The under part was curd like and quite smooth. The whey is not clear but looks sort of like skim milk meaning still opaque. It doesn’t taste bad but it’s very cheesy. When I ran it through a cheese cloth the solids look like ricotta. No coloured bits anywhere. I think the process didn’t complete but I’m wondering if I can still use it?

  11. Asha says:

    Hi..a newbie’s question on the clabber of fresh, raw milk. After two warm, humid days the butter produced a red-orange mold. (Photo on my blog site.)
    Is this harmful? Can I save this batch of curds and whey or should I pitch it out? Thanks for your expertise.

  12. Carolyn says:

    Hello and thank you for all of your information. 🙂 I bought fresh raw milk in half gallon mason jars from a farmer. One jar somehow ended up unopened in the back of the fridge where it has remained quite cold and unopened for a undetermined amount of time. Long enough for the milk to apparently sour and separate into whey while still refrigerated. The thick solid layer on top, would that to be considered sour cream or some type of cheese? Is it still usable, provided when I open the jar, that I don’t see any mold?

  13. Bonnie says:

    I’ve had my raw milk sitting on the kitchen counter now for 2 days & it’s separating nicely 🙂 Just wondering what will be left afterwards besides the curds & whey?…is there any milk left or does it all curdle? I’ve made whey from yogurt & gotten some tangy, yummy cream cheese…but wanted to try the raw milk version in hopes of frying up some curds because my husband LOVES them! My daddy was asking if the milk was safe to drink when it was all said & done…but I didn’t read anything about that in your post. So I’m assuming everything either separates or curdles…am I right?

  14. karen says:

    Hello I was wondering if I can use 10 day raw cows milk thats been stored in a cold fridge and is just started to turn a hint soured? Can I warm that us to make clabber?
    Also would adding yogurt culture or kefir culture to the milk you want to clabber add or take away or change the benefits as it clabbers?
    I want to make some for my husband who is suffering from severe nausea. He notices sipping on raw cows milk helps.
    Thanks for any help you can advise with


  15. Jennifer says:

    Hi there, I’m wondering about 2 things:
    1) Can you make whey out of raw milk that has gone sour in the fridge? In other words, I love raw milk but often it goes bad before I’m finished with the bottle. Can I make whey out of what’s left?

    2) Can you make it out of goats milk?

    Also, I have had some sitting that I started from slightly old milk, tasted the top cheesy part but it had a yucky aftertaste. It’s winter here and I don’t want to leave a heater on to warm the bottle, so I thought I’d let it sit longer. Its been 5 days. I know it’s ok to leave it as long as a week or two, if it tastes good, so I’m wondering if the reason is that the milk had turned in the first place?

    • I haven’t tried making clabber from already soured milk, but in theory it should work, though maybe it’s extra sour and that’s what’s causing the funky after taste.

      I also haven’t tried making it from goat’s milk, but it should work!

      • Robin Ripley says:

        I make clabbered milk from my goats milk
        and is wonderful. I have Nigerian Dwarfs and it has lots of cream on top when I clabber milk. Am really pleased with the results.

  16. Ruth says:

    I have had my fresh, whole, raw milk sitting up on a high shelf in a half gallon jar with a coffee filter and rubber band for nearly a week and it still has not clabbered. Today, I placed it in an empty ice cream tub with the lid loosely sitting on top to give more air surface. Do you have any other ideas to get it to clabber? Our house is about 71 degrees.

  17. Kara says:

    Hello! I’ve got some raw milk that’s been in my fridge for about 2 weeks. It was starting to sour last week and I just didn’t have time to get to it; I assumed that although it may continue to sour there would be some delicious use for it. Now it’s got a rather red tint at the top (cream) layer. I saw you’d mentioned not to use milk that has colors other than yellow.. any advice? Thanks!

  18. Mimi says:

    When I let my raw milk sit in my fridge door for about 3 weeks, it will POP! when I open the bottle b/c of the fermentation process. It tastes both sweet and a bit sour and it’s slightly effervescent… it actually has carbonated. It’s absolutely delicious. I always think, the older the milk, the healthier it is for you. I’m always thinking of my microbiome.

  19. Sylvia says:

    Hi! We have been using raw milk for about a year and are loving it so far. A few tims I have had an open gallon start to sour if we didnt go through it fast enough. I just ended up throwing it out, but felt bad as I could tell it didnt smell bad, but I had no idea what to do with it. This time I poured it into a glass jar and put it back in the fridge till I had the time to investigate what to do with it. It’s been in the fridge in that glass jar for about 2 1/2 weeks now and im wondering if it is still ok to use it. I see in the directions that you say to take it out and put it on the counter for a couple of days to “clabber”. I obviously didn’t do that since I didnt know. Now im wondering if I missed an opportunity to use this souring milk by keeping it in the fridge, or if I can still use it. I checked on it and it does not smell bad at all. The top is thicker cream slighly yellowish, then what looks like whey in the middle, and then the bottom of the jar is white. I have no idea what to do with this now, put it on the counter for some time, or assume it clabbered enought at fridge temperature for those couple of weeks and strain it, or just throw it out. Any advice would be appreciated!

  20. Laurie says:

    Has anyone use Goats Milk instead of Cow’s milk? How was it and how did it compare? Very interested in learning more because I have Goats. Thank you in advance.

  21. Laurie says:

    Is the whey you get from clabbered milk considered Acidic or sweet? What can this whey be used for to cook?

    • The clabber and whey are both “soured” and therefore acidic, as they are rich in lactic acid. However, lactic acid tends to have an alkaline effect on the body.

      The why can be used in fermenting or you can drink it on its own in beverages. Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon has a lot of recipes that include whey.

  22. scot brown says:

    Hello Ms. Gabardy,

    Greetings from out the Netherlands. I came aross your website as i was searching for the nutritional value of maple syrup clabber. I have been making a truely dynamic clabber with maple syrup with a exceptional g-f raw milk from here in Holland, called A2 milk, or farmers milk. This milk is soooo alive it’s almost unbelievable what happens when i clabber it with maple syrup.
    After 3-5 days of sitting still, i open up the bottle and the curdles rise up and out of the bottle, like molten lava in a volcano! and it tastes like a velvet vanilla shake crossed with maple flavor! so surpreme!

    So may i ask you if you have any idea the nutritional values are?

    thank you for the great website…. I’ll be back real soon!

    Groetjes from amsterdam


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