Thursday, April 10, 2008

More Fun With Fermentation

Making our first Kefir

The day finally came when our Kefir starter arrived! I haven't had a chance to get it going until today after work. The company was kind enough to mail us a second starter, since the first one burst in the mail...I imagine from the mail handling.

It can sit out at room temperature for a couple of days until opened. The small plastic pouch came with a label instructing us what to do. First, you cut a small opening and fill the bag with about 8 or so ounces of store-bought milk. You're using this to rinse the plastic pouch so that any particles clinging to the interior can be poured out.

Next, you swish it around then pour it into a small clean container, emptying the contents of the pouch. Take a clean, fine mesh strainer and pour the milk mixture through it.

You want the liquid part to pour through, and the strainer to catch the kefir "grains," which are not really grain, but are the probiotic component that grows during the kefir-making process, and which is saved after each batch. They are sort of spongy and dense, and about the size of cottage cheese curds.

After pouring in most of the milk mixture, I had to move the grains around a little so the rest of the liquid could drain through. Here is a picture of what the grains looked like after all the liquid drained off.

And here is a picture of about how much liquid drained through.

There are about 2 tablespoons of Kefir grains left in the strainer. Save them all...even the tiny ones. Essentially, you just washed them with clean milk, the milk that just drained through that strainer. Throw away the drained-off liquid...meaning pour it on your garden soil or give it to your chickens, if you're lucky enough to have either :)

When you've drained the grains, fill a clean glass jar with 8 ounces of store-bought milk, and plop in that lovely kefir starter blob. Cover it with a clean cloth and secure with a rubber band, or do what J prefers and use a coffee filter and a jar ring. Then wash up the few used utensils that were needed, and pat yourself on the back for loving mad science...simple things to mix up in the kitchen that will rejuvenate your immune system, your digestion, your health, and open new doors on terrific new foods that are both delicious AND life-enlivening.

Don't take my word for it medically, and consult your own doctor for medical advice, blah blah blah...but this is our own opinion as things stand, for ourselves. We're trying to make some pretty basic changes.

We are setting the jar out at room temperature at least 12 hours, and the instructions say to strain the Kefir liquid into a drinking glass (that's your kefir you'll want to drink or make a smoothie's slightly tart, so some will want to add honey or stevia) and save the grains, plop them back into the glass jar you used before, add 8 ounces of milk again, and leave out again overnight...and repeat. Eventually, you'll get more and more kefir grains, and can use a larger quantity of milk with them if you like.

Making our first Caspian Yogurt Soft Cheese ... (or not)

I think this may have been a big flop! (for now)

CSY has been THE easiest thing to make, once we've cycled it a few days. I think initially I added too much liquid, and so I'm trying it now with different proportions of culture to milk. I typed this before, but Caspian Sea Yogurt is as easy as putting some starter in the bottom of a clean glass jar, pouring milk over it, covering it with a coffee filter and jar ring, and leaving it to sit on top of the fridge or elsewhere for 12-15 hours, maybe fewer hours in warmer weather. Then refrigerate, and eat it. I like it best blended in a smoothie, but J likes it anyway it comes.

It looks like pale boiled custard and pours like honey, with a consistency I find hard to describe. But it is very mild, and if it separates into whey and yogurt, you just pour the whey off and use the whey for something else...the whey is too tart, but the yogurt is mild. You can set aside a small amount of either the whey or the yogurt to repeat the process of starter-to-jar-overnight-to-eat, and repeat each day. Or skip a few days in doesnt seem too picky and the taste and consistency definately improve after a few "makings."

The literature says you can take the thick yogurt part and put it in several layers of cheesecloth, tie it off, and leave it to drain for a day at room temp, to make a spreadable soft cheese.

Here's what I rigged with a sauce pot, a plastic colander, some cheesecloth, rubber band, and skewer:

I think my yogurt was not thickened enough, though...instead of whey draining off, most of the yogurt went right through the cheesecloth. Hmmm.

The small amount that was left after an hour is only a few tablespoons, and I'm leaving it overnight just to experiment. But I think I'm supposed to have a more solid CSY going into this, so I'll let the next batch get nice and thick (almost over-fermented) and then try it again.

So, so far so good...some progress. Shall update on the Kefir as it begins its process...I think it takes a few days to get it going smoothly and the product to improve over time. We'll see!

At any rate, this is fun. Not a huge investment. One starter was less than $10 and the other was right at $15, tax and shipping included.

One anecdotal sidenote: J, who is a very committed meat-and-potatoes-eating man, and who HAS to have meat at least twice a day to feel energized for the day has been so satisfied eating the homemade CSY and (so far storebought) Kefir, that he now seldom feels the need to eat meat for his protein. This is HUGE. He's really firm about having something that gives him the energy he needs for his long days. He is feeling better, and his knee that often gives him trouble is feeling nearly pain-free and much more mobile and flexible. Let's see what happens over the long-term. At present, we see nothing but benefits, many of them unexpected.



Maria said...

My experience has been that the first few Kefir drinks you make with your new grains are the tastiest. But, once you get them use to their new home, they just keep on growing. My favorite Kefir is mixed with a touch of Maple syrup, Cinnamon, and Coconut extract. Mmmmm! I've never gotten it to be as smooth or tasty as what is sold in the stores, but it sure feels more healthy!

Jessica said...

Are you using kefir grains or powder? I've heard powders have a limited life while grains last forever. I found some grains through my town's freecycle group, but there are lots of places on the web where you can find them.

Regardless of your source, kefir is invaluable- literally manna from heaven- for our health. We love it, especially with vanilla and stevia!

Jessica at

Robbyn said...

We're using the grains...they're what's showing in the picture. So far so good, except I think I get a little too enthusiastic and try to drown the grains with too much milk at one time. I'll have to try the finished product with the vanilla and stevia you mentioned. I actually like it sour and plain, surprisingly :)