Sunday, February 6, 2011

Making kefir

I've been making kefir with kefir grains for a few weeks now.  I find it very easy to make, less fuss than yogurt, and I've learned I like it plain.  Which came as a big surprise to me!

Previously, I'd had kefir purchased in a bottle and generally fruit-flavored, like strawberry.  Sort of like a thin shake.  Then I found a package of kefir-starter at Cranberry's.  That's a simple process, too, but it's not self-perpetuating.  Each packet made a batch of kefir and I could save a bit to make another batch.  But that only works for a few times.  Then I had to go back to mixing up another packet.  When I ran out of packets in the box, I would have to buy another.  Or switch to using kefir grains.

Switching to the grains made the most sense.  So now I have a small wide-mouthed jar with creamline milk and kefir grains working away all the time.  As soon as a batch of kefir is ready, 36- to 48-hours what with the cooler indoor temps, I strain out the grains and store the liquid in the fridge till I'm ready to use it.  The grains go back in the small jar with another cup or so of creamline milk.   

There are slightly differing views on how to make kefir.  Because the milk's already pasteurized I haven't found it necessary to scald the milk prior to pouring over the grains.  And I don't rinse the grains before plopping them back into the jar with more milk.  Some kefir-makers recommend both those things; others don't.  And some kefir-makers insist on only using raw milk.   If I had raw milk available, I'd use it instead.  As it is, Virginia doesn't allow the sale of raw milk and I don't have dairy animals (yet!) nor a cow share, so I rely on a local creamery's pasteurized milk.

I'm finding that kefir makes an excellent substitute for buttermilk in recipes -- blender oatmeal pancakes are equally good made with kefir, buttermilk or thinned yogurt.  I like kefir as a buttermilk sub in ranch dressing and as a sub for sour cream in our favorite macaroni and cheese recipe.  Makes a good, not-too-sweet, dessert when topping lightly sweetened fruit. Alternatively, the kefir can be sweetened with a teaspoon or so of honey and then poured over fruit or cereal.  It works great for soaking grains prior to bread-baking.  I have yet to try using it as the sole yeast source when making a sourdough-type bread but that's on my list. 

Smoothies made with kefir are great but I have learned that, since it's not quite as thick as the yogurt I previously used, I need to include a frozen banana or something similar so the drink remains thick as we prefer it. If made with kefir and only fresh, non-frozen fruits, it's still tasty but thinner, more like the kefir beverages from the store.  Not what we think of when imagining a thick fruit smoothie sucked up through  a straw or scooped with a spoon. YMMV
Kefir, like yogurt, is supposed to be a good-for-you, easily-digested food.  But it doesn't matter how good something is for me, if I don't like it, it's hard getting it down.  Especially on a regular basis.  So I'm very happy to learn that not only will my kefir grains continue to grow and steadily produce kefir into the future with just the addition of milk, but we like it.  And I even like it plain -- it's refreshing and, this is important, doesn't greatly remind me of cultured buttermilk.  An irrational fear I've had ever since I bought the first bottle of flavored kefir years ago.


Steve Finnell said...

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Sarah Rachele said...

Thanks for the post. My friend has allergies and was just telling me about kefir. Have you ever heard of it being made with goat milk? We have dairy goats, and am wondering if I can use their milk as a substitute for cow milk. Good post, thanks!

sue said...

Interesting, Carolyn--I don't know if I've ever had it. I'm curious,now. We used to make yogurt, years ago, but never kefir.

Carolyn at Walnut Spinney said...

@Sarah Rachele - Yes, kefir can be made with goat's milk and sheep's milk, not just cow's milk. There's even a type of kefir called water kefir made with, you guessed it, water. ;) I'm envious of your dairy goats -- one of these days we'll have our own.

@Sue - A little market in H'burg started carrying kefir in the late '80s when the area had an influx of Russian émigrés. That was (the first and) only place I found it till about ten years ago when it started showing up as a ready-to-drink beverage in the organic section at the regular grocery. When I went looking for the grains, I found quite a few people locally who offered to share.

@Steve Finnell - Appreciate the suggestion.

Luxembourg said...

Seller talks about growing kefir is like art, but the kefir that i got from him was flat. After readind on "DOM'S KEFIR" site i believe the grain was squeezed by the "Seller" ouch !