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Making Creamy Cold-Fermented Kefir at Home
I like to make kefir at home. You can find many resources that teach you how to make kefir, but I know of a way to make it that is a little different. This article assumes that you know at least the basics of making kefir. I’ll see how I make it but I assume you know all about how long to ferment it and what a properly fermented batch looks like.
When I started making kefir a few years ago, my kefir grains grew so large that I could ferment a gallon of milk at a time. The problem here is that I’m really the only one drinking it at the time, and since fermentation takes 24-48 hours, I can’t drink it fast enough. Another problem I encountered was in the summer. Kefir ferments faster when it’s warm. I lived in an apartment where it easily reached 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit, and I usually went to my parents’ pool house on summer weekends, so I didn’t want to leave a gallon of explosive fermenting milk alone. in the kitchen. Actually, we would turn off the window air conditioner when we went out on the weekend and it was a second floor apartment, so the temperature would get really high. I decided to try a cold brew. The cooler the temperature, the slower the fermentation. Now, you can mix it up however you want. You can start it at room temperature to keep it going and then when it reaches the right “doneness” put it in the refrigerator and leave it there where it will still ferment but at a much slower rate. You can take your time getting it and not have to worry about it exploding or turning to cheese.
Let’s move on to the first part of fermentation, which is the basics of making kefir. Please wash your hands thoroughly before proceeding.
First you need kefir grains, which are little white rubbery textured tings that look like cauliflower florets. No one has been able to figure out where it first came from or by what mechanism it was first created. They get bigger and a bit bigger falls out and then those chunks get bigger in the milk until they fall apart and grow and they go on and on. As far as anyone knows, all kefir grains on earth came from the first batch in the Russo-Georgian Caucasus Mountains where Muslim tribesmen considered them a gift from God like the manna that fed the ancient Israelites in the desert. .
Milk is also needed. You can use any type of mammal’s milk, but cow, goat, and sheep are the most commonly used. I have personally made kefir with cow and goat milk. I like the taste of goat’s milk more than cow’s milk, and I also like goat’s kefir better, but since goat’s milk is more expensive, I make it in small batches. Only use cow’s milk to make gallons as long as you are okay with it and have no allergies to bovine mammary secretions (milk). Where I live, I am fortunate to have organic, grass-fed, non-creamy homogenized milk from Jersey cows, which is creamier and fattier than the more watery and more commonly available milk from Holstein cows. Unfortunately for most people they are stuck with BGH laced and homogenized Holstein milk from grain fed cows. Hey, you use what you have. Kefir will make the milk drinkable, but only if you can get organic milk from grass-fed cows.
You will need some bowls and tools. I prefer a pyrex style glass bowl and a plastic ladle and strainer. For all these you need metal tools and not plastic ones. Also, try using glass jars, measuring cups, etc. I also use a pyrex style quartz shaped container with a handle. I put paper towels down to catch any drips but you don’t have to. You want all your stuff to be clean. You also need containers to store strained kefir. I use an old cleaned plastic mayonnaise container. They are made of food grade plastic. Use food grade plastic or glass. This is optional but really adds to the drink-ability. A kitchen blender or hand-held electric mixer. You should have at least two large gallon-sized glass jars with lids and rubber gaskets. That’s what I use. You can use any glassware or food grade plastic jar. I recommend the large one to keep all your milk and cereal in one container, but I suppose if the large milk is too much trouble for some reason, you can split it all into two smaller ones. You will also need a large wide mouth funnel. This is also optional but we’ll see where it comes in handy later.
Keep all your belongings. This is all assuming that you already have the kefir grains to make such a large amount and that they were fermented at least once to make the batch. You should put it all together and ferment it and then chill it in the fridge to slow it down, or start it at room temperature and then refrigerate it longer so you can increase your consumption. Maybe you want to take a break from your fermentation or kefir making and drinking for a while.
Take the cold fermenter out of the fridge and carefully, on a towel spread out on the counter-top, give it a light shake or mix in the curd, whey and fat that has separated a little. You want it as free as possible to pour into the strainer.
Place your plastic strainer, which should have holes large enough for the fatty mix to pass through but not lose too many of your small grains in the kefir. If the holes are too small, you’ll end up with a strainer full of kefir that will never drain. You may want to experiment, but they should be plastic, not metal. The strainer should also be large enough that the rim of the strainer fits over the edge of the bowl, so that you don’t have to hold it constantly, and leave enough space under the strainer for the strained milk to collect there.
Carefully open the fermenting jar as it contains carbon dioxide that wants to escape. Hold the large pot with fermented kefir with both hands and slowly pour as much as possible into the strainer so that it is full. Clumps and lumps Clumping of milk can cause some splashing and leakage. This is normal. Place the jar down and lift the strainer by the handle and gently shake it or move the strainer back and forth to stimulate movement and the straining process. If all went well, you should have a strainer full of grains and a bowl full of kefir. Pour the grains from the strainer into another bowl or just keep the strainer but for now put the strainer into the other bowl to keep everything straight and tidy.
The next part is optional but if you don’t, your kefir will be lumpy and the lumpy texture will turn off many people, especially children. Also, this step will reduce or stop the tendency of refrigerated strained kefir to separate curds and whey. You just need to give them a light shake or swirl the container a few times to mix them, but still.
You can pour the strained kefir into a blender, but I like one of those handy electric hand mixers. Get a clean plate to keep between uses as I assume all the strains up to this point will need to be repeated at least once and it will drip. Simply add the hand mixer to the strained kefir bowl and give it a few mixes by pushing or pressing the button. You can shake the mixing end to make sure you get it all but keep it well submerged or you’ll get kefir all over the place. I know this from experience. Now you will have a delicious creamy and silky texture to the kefir. If you don’t like the taste of plain tangy sour kefir, you can add mango nectar or other fruit juice or something at this time. You can mix each container that you fill with a different flavor. If you do make sure you don’t overfill it with kefir and leave enough room for the flavoring ingredients and the mixer tip. Also, if you are mixing in a plastic bowl or container, be careful not to touch or scrape the bottom with the mixing tip. You don’t want plastic shavings in your kefir. That’s why I prefer to mix it in a glass jar.
I want to take a small tangent here regarding flavoring. Once at an Indian restaurant with an Indian colleague, we had some lovely mango lassi, an Indian fermented milk drink. It was pale yellow and delicious. It tasted like mango. One day I found Goya mango nectar in the supermarket. It comes in a glass jar and is also reasonably priced. It’s of Spanish origin, and unless they differentiate, the sweetened added ingredient is sugar, not the toxic high fructose corn syrup that plagues sweetened drinks made in America. The light bulb went off and I remembered the delicious mango lassi at the Indian restaurant. I bought a few bottles and took them home and mixed them with some kefir until I got the right strength for my taste. Even giving my 9 year old a healthy kefir drink had horrible side effects, which he simply won’t touch. Chocolate syrup for kefir (organic from the organic market) is also a popular children’s flavor.
Well, after you fill the jar with kefir and the strainer bowl is empty or nearly empty, repeat the pouring, straining and mixing process for this batch. Once your pots are full you can now finish. I have two large gallon jugs, one that I cleaned from last time and one that I just emptied. If you are only using one, now is the time to give the jug a good clean and dry it with a paper towel. Your regular towels may contain germs, and you’ll want to get any chlorinated water from the tap. Then you place a wide mouth funnel on the top and use a ladle to scoop a large bunch of your kefir grains out of the strainer and dump them into the bowl. When it’s done, pour a gallon of fresh milk over it, close it, shake it a few times to infuse the milk well, and then put it on the counter-top to start a new fermentation. Store it in the back of the fridge for anywhere from a week to several months if needed after about 24 hours.
There you have it, delicious cold fermented kefir. It’s also worth noting that when I make it this way, it’s full of tiny carbon bubbles that really make it a milk champagne!
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