Yes whey! Canby dairy, Salem distiller team up to make ‘cowcohol’

Special Reports

TMK Creamery and Divine Distillers are perfecting their whey-based vodka

CANBY, Ore. (KOIN) — When you see dairy cows, you probably think of milk, cheese, ice cream. Now add vodka to that list.

TMK Creamery, located just outside Canby, is eschewing the typical grains or potatoes and opting for a whey-based liquor that keeps their cows front and center.

TMK Farm began a registered dairy program about 30 years ago, “when Todd Koch bought his first Holstein heifer” for 4-H, according to the company’s website. Within a decade, the herd grew enough to prompt Koch and his siblings to start their own dairy facility. A few years ago, Shauna Koch Garza started making cheese, the main product sold at the creamery on Dryland Road.

Soon, TMK Vodka could be right there next to the cheddar curds and gouda wedges.

TMK reached out to several distillers to help them make the vodka, Todd Koch said. But Jason Greenwood, who started Divine Distillers just 14 months ago in Salem, was the only one adventurous enough to help.

Greenwood tells KOIN 6 whey-based vodka is not common.

“We’ve been working with the USDA and OSU to perfect this,” Greenwood said. “It’s taken us, so far, over 10 months to make.”

According to an article from Oregon State University, “as much as 90 percent of the milk” used for cheese-making ends up as whey. Big companies can turn some of that into profit by producing products like whey protein, but most small creameries can’t afford the equipment used for that, according to OSU.

Studies at OSU also suggest that the environmental impact of turning whey into other products is less damaging than dumping it into a landfill.

So a few small creameries are experimenting with whey-based vodka, as is OSU’s fermentation science program.

“We take the whey after the cheese is made, there’s about 3% sugars which we ferment,” Greenwood said. “And then once we’ve fermented those 3% sugars, we distill those.”

Koch said they’re still working to increase production, but hope to be selling bottles of the vodka by the end of October.

TMK Creamery is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays. They also do tours where people can meet their “cow-lebrities.”

tmk creamery canby 1052019
TMK Creamery and Divine Distillers offered tastings of their new whey-based vodka on Oct. 5, 2019 (Hannah Ray Lambert)

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