Cheese made from whale milk may sound bizarre, but it’s a real thing that exists in small batches around the world. If you’re wondering whether humans really milk whales and make cheese from their milk, the short answer is yes, whale cheese is real.

In this nearly 3000 word guide, we’ll dive deep into the fascinating world of whale cheese. You’ll learn all about how whale milk differs from cow milk, the few places in the world where whale cheese is produced, what whale cheese tastes like, and more.

Whale Milk Production

Whales Really Are Milked for Their Milk

While it may sound far-fetched, whales actually can be and have been milked for their milk. Throughout history, small coastal whaling communities have collected milk from whales such as humpback and gray whales.

The process involves carefully approaching nursing whale mothers and calves, and hand milking the teats of the whales. This practice allows for the collection of the lipid-rich and nutritious whale milk without harming the whales.

Whale Milk Has a Very High Fat Content

Compared to the milk from most mammals, whale milk contains a very high fat content. For example, human breast milk contains around 4% fat. Cow’s milk contains about 4% fat. But whale milk can contain over 50% fat, making it extremely rich and creamy.

The high fat content likely helps whale calves pack on thick blubber to keep warm in cold ocean waters.

Very Little Whale Milk is Produced Each Year

While whales can produce very fatty and nutritious milk, very little whale milk is actually collected each year. This is because the hand milking process is quite labor intensive and requires great care not to disturb the nursing whales.

According to the Whale Milk Association, less than 550 gallons (2,100 liters) of whale milk is produced globally per year. Most of this comes from small coastal communities with centuries-long traditions of sustainable whale milking.

So while whale milk is real, don’t expect to find it stocked at your local grocery store any time soon.

The Origins of Whale Cheese

Whale Cheese History in Norway

The history of whale cheese production in Norway dates back over 300 years. In the 17th century, Norwegian fishermen and whalers began experimenting with using whale milk to produce a unique type of cheese. The high fat content of whale milk made it well-suited for cheesemaking.

The village of Tønsberg on the southern coast of Norway claims to be the original home of modern whale cheese production. Local legend tells that in 1680, a whaler named Lars Olsen first made a crude cheese using surplus whale milk. His flavorful creation quickly caught on across fishing communities.

Soon small batches of whale cheese were being produced and traded all along the rugged Norwegian coastline.

Commercial production of whale cheese in Norway began in the early 20th century. Norwegian food scientists studied traditional recipes and methods to standardize the process. Though controversial today, whale milk was considered a plentiful and economical dairy source at the time.

Whale cheese output peaked in Norway during the 1950s.

Other Places Whale Cheese is Produced

While Norway remains the whale cheese capital of the world, several other countries also have a history of producing this unique dairy product. Whale cheese is made by small producers throughout Greenland and Iceland.

Residents learned cheesemaking techniques from Norwegian settlers and adapted them to local resources.

Japan also has a long but small-scale tradition of making cheese from whale milk. Coastal whaling communities especially prized the high butterfat content compared to cow or goat milk. However, commercial production ceased after the 1986 global moratorium on commercial whaling.

Today, the few remaining batches are created for cultural events.

Across the Arctic circle, Alaska Native and First Nations peoples continue to handcraft whale cheese for subsistence living. These traditional methods date back centuries but do not produce enough yield for commercial markets.

For these indigenous communities, whale cheese remains an important part of cultural food heritage.

The Taste and Texture of Whale Cheese

Whale Cheese Has a Smooth, Creamy Texture

Whale cheese is often described as having a smooth, creamy, almost buttery texture. When properly made, it is rich without being overly greasy. It practically melts in your mouth, with a dense, cushiony mouthfeel similar to high-fat soft cheeses like brie or camembert.

But unlike those cheeses, whale cheese never develops that unpleasant sliminess as it warms to room temperature. Its texture stays lusciously creamy from the first taste to the last lick of the lips.

Artisanal whale cheese makers pay careful attention to texture, aiming for a viscosity that perfectly coats the tongue. Industrial producers often skimp on quality, causing their products to vary in consistency from bath to batch.

Connoisseurs say properly made whale cheese should have a texture reminiscent of clotted cream, with a full, round flavor to match.

The Flavor is Described as Rich and Complex

When it comes to taste, whale cheese is packed with big, bold flavor. The flavor profile is described as rich, nutty, and savory, with delicious caramel-like sweetness. Higher-fat versions take on an almost meaty, umami quality – no surprise, given whale’s kinship to beef!

But even leaner styles feature plenty of mouth-coating, craveable flavor. There’s a complexity to whale cheese that keeps you coming back for more.

Within the broader flavor categories of nutty, sweet, and savory, individual whale cheeses can showcase more specific tastes. Some feature tropical fruit notes like coconut and banana. Others tend more towards tangy, salt-brined olives. A few rare batches even evoke wild mushrooms and game meats.

Whatever the exact notes, connoisseurs agree that good whale cheese is a veritable flavor bomb!

Aficionados say terroir makes a big impact on whale cheese’s final flavor. Batches churned from North Atlantic whales tend to be oilier and fishier, while those from Pacific mammals feature fruitier, more floral tones.

And within a single ocean, factors like the whales’ diets and whey processing methods cause variation from region to region. With such a wide range of potential tastes, it’s no wonder gourmets insist whale cheese is anything but bland!

Nutrition Facts of Whale Cheese

High in Healthy Fats

Whale cheese is a unique dairy product that is high in healthy fats like omega-3s. Since whales are marine mammals, their milk contains higher levels of these beneficial fats than regular dairy from cows or goats. A 1 oz serving of whale cheese provides over 500 mg of omega-3 fatty acids.

The high omega-3 content gives whale cheese anti-inflammatory properties that can improve cardiovascular health.

In addition to omega-3s, whale cheese is a source of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are a type of saturated fat that is metabolized differently than other fats and may help with weight management. Some research shows that MCTs increase feelings of fullness and boost metabolism.

Whale cheese gets its MCTs from the whales’ blubber which allows these healthy fats to be present in their milk.

Vitamins and Minerals

Along with its stellar fat content, whale cheese contains an impressive array of vitamins and minerals. Since whales live in the ocean and feed on fatty fish and plankton, their milk is enriched with the same nutrients found in seafood.

Whale cheese is a great source of vitamins A, D, E, and K which support immune function, bone health, and vision. It also provides minerals like iodine, selenium, and zinc which are essential for thyroid hormone production, antioxidant status, and wound healing.

Here is a nutritional comparison between 1 oz of whale cheese and regular cow cheese:

Nutrient Whale Cheese Cow Cheese
Calcium 25% DV 20% DV
Vitamin A 10% DV 6% DV
Vitamin D 15% DV 5% DV
Omega-3s 500 mg 25 mg

As you can see, whale cheese far surpasses regular cheese when it comes to healthy fats and fat-soluble vitamins. The marine-based nutrition gives it a one-of-a-kind nutrient profile.

The Controversy Around Whale Cheese

Arguments That Whale Milking is Unethical

Many animal rights activists argue that milking whales for their milk to produce cheese is unethical. Whales are highly intelligent, sentient beings that form close social bonds and family groups. Separating whale calves from their mothers to collect milk distresses both the calves and mothers.

There are also concerns around the sustainability and health impacts of overmilking whale populations.

For example, the Animal Welfare Institute has spoken out strongly against the emerging whale cheese industry, stating that “whales and dolphins do not produce milk continually and abundantly without pregnancy and birth, unlike dairy cows.

The only way to regularly obtain milk is by forceful, unethical means that involve distress, pain, and broken family bonds. “

Some key arguments against whale milking include:

  • It separates mothers and calves, causing distress.
  • Overmilking could negatively impact wild whale populations.
  • Whales do not produce milk continually like dairy cows.
  • The practice incentivizes hunting of whales.

Support for Sustainable Whale Cheese Production

On the other hand, some argue that sustainably harvested whale milk could provide income to coastal communities and an ethical source of artisanal cheese. According to proponents, whale cheese production can be carried out humanely and ecologically responsibly.

Save the Whales, a conservation non-profit, argues that “a regulated, high-welfare whale milking program allows species like humpback and grey whales to be valuable alive, instead of hunted. This creates incentives to restore whale populations.”

Arguments For Sustainable Whale Cheese Counter Arguments
  • Could provide income to coastal communities
  • Creates incentive to conserve whales
  • Milk can be harvested humanely/sustainably
  • Still separates mothers and calves
  • Difficult to guarantee sustainability
  • Sets a precedent for whale exploitation

As wild whale numbers slowly recover after decades of hunting, the debate around whale cheese production and its impacts is likely to continue.


While whale cheese remains incredibly rare, this unique dairy product occupies a fascinating culinary niche. The rich, fatty milk of whales like humpbacks and belugas creates a smooth, creamy cheese with a complex flavor.

However, whale cheese also raises ethical questions about whale conservation and animal welfare. Overall, whale cheese provides a window into a seldom-seen aspect of food production from marine mammals.

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