These cheesemakers are transforming milk into vodka

Sixth-generation, Somerset, England-based cheesemaker Barber’s — now the oldest surviving cheddar makers in the world, according to its website — produce over 80 tonnes of cheese each day, made from milk from over 100 local dairy farms.

Once the milk arrives at Barber’s, though, what becomes of it differs a bit from what happens at your average cheesemaker.

As Barber’s director Giles Barber recently told The Manufacturer, milk is separated into curds (which go on to become cheese) and whey — roughly 85 percent of the milk, which has been described as “the problem child of the dairy industry.”

As Barber explained, the Barber’s team makes use of all components of the milk — separating any residual butterfat from the whey, to make butter; processing the whey protein for use in infant formula products; and separating the lactose into a concentrated serum that then goes into anaerobic digesters for energy creation, or is fermented and distilled to make vodka.

Wait, what?

Barber described the process of transforming milk into Black Cow Vodka — a company run by cousin, Jason Barber: The whey serum is fermented into a ‘beer’ using a special yeast that converts the milk sugar into alcohol; this ‘milk beer’ goes on to be distilled into vodka, triple filtered and finished, then hand-bottled. The result is what the company calls “the world’s smoothest vodka.”

As Giles Barber told The Manufacturer, Barber’s closes the loop on its cheese production, down to the final byproduct, water — “which we use to wash down and clean the cheesemaking areas. Once that has been done, the water is then piped a few miles underground to a purification plant, where it is cleaned to a standard that allows us to put it back into the water system. It is often cleaner than the river it goes into, so it is improving the river water quality.”