First Lesson of the Week: winging it when doing DIY fermented milk probably won’t kill you but success can be more readily assured if you do your homework first. I’ve been making what I thought was Kefir for the past 3 weeks. Mistake #1: I’d never had Kefir before. Ever. So I had nothing to compare it to other than having read that texturally it was somewhere between milk and yoghurt and shouldn’t smell nor taste worse than yoghurt (and any tongue tingly sensations are a no-no too).
Not sure what Kefir even is? Turns out me neither! 😉 Actually, that’s not entirely true. I knew that it was fermented milk; a drinkable yoghurt, with lots of good bacteria for helping to ensure a healthy gut. I’ve had Lassi (Indian drinking yoghurt) and I’d seen bottles of flavoured Kefir sold at health shops and had a friend rave about the stuff she’d been buying. I didn’t like the ingredients list on the pre-bottled ones and they’re also not that cheap, but I did see a box of Kefir granules nearby and thought ‘I’ll give that a go! How hard could it be?”.
This gets us to the second lesson of the week: Kefir milk should have a fairly smooth creamy consistency but if yours (or mine in this case) looks like little lumps and has a layer of ‘water’ all by itself, you (I) took things a step too far resulting in mistake #2. Little lumps are actually ‘curds’ and the ‘water’ is actually ‘whey’. If you want Kefir with a nice smooth consistency, apparently you (I) need to stop at the point where it actually looks like yoghurt and is thick and creamy when a spatula or spoon is run through it, not at the point after this. I now know this because of a nice and easy to follow video here. Which brings us to mistake #3 and the title of this post: you have to strain your Kefir milk so that you end up with a nice smooth yoghurt drink in a jar, with ‘little cauliflowers’ i.e. ‘Kefir grains’ leftover for further use. I totally missed this point as the starter box of powdered Kefir grains I used made absolutely NO mention of straining. The packet assumed I knew what I was doing. And let me be clear, I actually DID read the instructions on the pack and not just once, but thrice and on the third reading there was still no mention of straining. It just says to keep half a cup of Kefir grains for the next batch, so I reserved half a cup of my curd/kefir/whey mix for the next batch once I’d finished drinking the rest of it.
Third lesson of the week: accidentally drinking Kefir grains won’t kill you; won’t make you sick; won’t even seem wrong if you’ve no idea what you’re doing anyway. Or at least it didn’t in my experience. Results may vary between individuals, so make sure you do your homework. 😉
I made the first batch of Kefir with Elgaar farm organic pasteurised unhomogenised milk. The second batch was made with biodynamic pasteurised homogenised milk. The third and pending fourth batch (result of what I sieved out the batch 3 curd/whey mix – really curious to see how this turns out!) were made with raw organic ‘Bath Milk’. I’m hoping this latest batch will finally get me a creamy smooth drinking yoghurt, with some lumpy cauliflowers in the sieve ready to go for round 5. I’ve actually seen the creamy stage three times already but as there was always some ‘water’ (whey) at the bottom of the jar, I just stirred the creamy bits into the liquid assuming it just needed a little more time for the Kefir to work …
Fourth lesson of the week: you can freak out a few friends if you tell them you’re making fermented yoghurt at home by adding white bacterial powder to raw milk then leaving it on a bench for 24-36 hours until it transforms into something you intend to consume. 🙂 You may even discover that one of your friends is already making Kefir and you’ll wish you’d known that 4 weeks ago…
Overall Kefir Lessons:
- The Kefir bacteria prefer temperatures warmer than 20C/68F but less than 30C/86F. The starting temperature of the milk doesnt seem to matter, straight out of the fridge is fine. The Kefir need a little bit of room to ‘grow’ in the jar so dont fill the milk up to the top – leave a few cms for air and expansion. Ideally use a glass jar that’s been well cleaned (as glass is non reactive). I’ve been recycling large ghee and honey jars for a while now and I find these are excellent for making Kefir (or storing dried fruits and nuts – much better than plastic and it’s recycling!). Cover the jar opening with a bit of cloth or paper towel to stop bugs getting in (I use a clean piece of Chux-type dish cloth that I’ve rinsed a few times to get rid of any dye/nasties), secured with a rubber band.
- Sieve kefir grains from the liquid once it’s formed a creamy thick mass with the milk. Use a plastic sieve if you have one, otherwise stainless steel. Other metals may react and kill the Kefir bacteria.
- So far the taste of the Elgaar farm derived Kefir has been my favourite as it was the sweetest and creamiest. The raw milk kefir developed the fastest but this might have been because it was a warmer day. I didn’t really like the homogenised pasteurised milk (full fat) as it was the most sour.
- You can store the ‘grains’/little cauliflowers in the fridge in some milk if you don’t plan to make a batch of kefir right away. http://www.rejoiceinlife.com/kefir/riln14.php has a lot more information on storing the grains and I’ll definitely be referring to this site again in future, especially as there’s a recipe for Sauerkraut and I finally just got myself some Mason jars! 🙂 🙂
- I wish I’d found the rejoiceinlife site sooner! “Store the culture out of direct sunlight in a cupboard or on top of the refrigerator for about 24 hours. It is not necessary to stir the culture but it is permissible to stir it once during that period…Fresh milk will thicken at first into a consistency much like a smooth yogurt, then with longer fermentation it will separate into a layer of thick curd floating on top of a greenish whey … Once the Kefir has cultured to your liking, strain it through a sieve using a fork to separate the curd from the grains. Pour the curd back into its jar and put the Kefir grains into a clean jar with fresh milk and repeat the process.” Source: http://www.rejoiceinlife.com/kefir/riln14.php
- Also good to know “If you make kefir every day then the Kefir grains should double in quantity every week. One report from a commercial manufacture, indicates that Kefir grows faster below 28 degrees Celsius. Kefir grains are edible and according to some sources have documented anticancer properties. Blend them into a banana smoothie, add them to a raw cheesecake, eat them as they are or share them with a friend.” Source: http://www.rejoiceinlife.com/kefir/riln14.php
Will let you know if I survive batch #4.