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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 a way to make it which is a bit different. This article assumes that you at least know the basics of kefir making. I will go over how I make it but I assume that you know all about how long to ferment it and what a properly fermented batch looks like.
Several years ago when I got started making kefir, my kefir grains multiplied to the point where I could ferment a gallon of milk at a time. The problem here is that since I am the only one who really drank it at the time, and it only takes 24-48 hours to ferment, I couldn’t drink it fast enough. The other problem I had came in the summertime. Kefir ferments much faster when it is warm. I was living in an apartment where it would easily get to 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit, and I usually would go away to my parents’ lake house on the summer weekends, so I didn’t want to leave a gallon of explosively fermenting milk alone in the kitchen. Actually, we would turn the window air conditioners off when we went away for the weekend and it was a second floor apartment, so the temperatures would actually go much higher. I decided to try a cold ferment. The colder the temperature, the slower the ferment. Now, you can mix this any way you want. You can start it out at room temperature to get it going and then put it into the refrigerator when it has reached the proper “doneness” and leave it there where it will still continue fermenting but at a much slower rate. You can take your time getting to it and don’t have to worry about it exploding or turning to cheese.
Let’s go over the first part of the ferment, which is the basics of kefir making. Please wash your hands well before proceeding.
First you need kefir grains, which are little white rubbery texture tings that look like cauliflower florets. No one has been able to figure out where the first ones came from or by what mechanism they were first created. They grow larger and bit fall off the larger part and then those parts in turn grow larger in the milk until they have pieces that fall off and grow and it goes on and on and on. As far as anyone knows, all kefir grains on earth came from the first batches in the Russo-Georgian are of the Caucasus mountain range where Muslim tribesmen considered them a gift from God like the Manna that fed the ancient Israelites in the desert even before that.
You also need milk. You can use any kind of mammal milk but cow, goat, and sheep are most commonly used. I have personally made kefir with both cow and goat milk. I prefer the taste of goat milk to cow milk and I also like goat kefir better, but I make that in small batches due to the high cost of goat milk. To make a gallon just use cow milk as long as you are okay with it and there are no allergies to bovine mammary secretions (milk). Where I live I am lucky enough to be able to obtain organic, grass fed I presume, creamy non homogenized milk from Jersey cows, which is MUCH creamier and fattier than the more commonly available and more watery 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. The kefir will even make that milk fit to drink, but if you can go for organic milk from grass fed cows.
You will need some bowls and tools. I prefer Pyrex style glass bowls and plastic ladle and strainer. You need plastic and not metal tools for all of this. Also, try to use glass bowls, measuring cups, etc. I also use a Pyrex style quartz size pouring container with a handle. I put down paper towels to catch any drip-page but you don’t have to. You want all of your stuff to be clean. You also need containers to store the strained kefir. I use old cleaned out plastic mayonnaise jars. They are made of food grade plastic. Use food grade plastics or glass. This one is optional but really adds to the drink-ability. A kitchen blender or a hand held electric mixer. You should also have at least two large gallon size glass jars with the lids that clamp on and the rubber gaskets. That’s what I use. You can use any glass jar or food grade plastic jar. I recommend a large one to keep all of your milk and grains in one container, but I suppose that you can split it all into two smaller ones if the large one are for some reason too unwieldy. You will also need a large wide mouth funnel. This is also optional but we’ll see where that comes in handy later on.
Lay out all of your stuff. This is all assuming that you already have enough kefir grains to make this large amount and that it was already fermenting at least once to make a batch. You should have put it all together and had it fermenting and then chilling in the fridge to slow it down or started it at room temperature and then had it in the cold for a larger amount of time in order to allow your consumption to catch up with your fermenting or maybe you just wanted to take a break from kefir making and drinking for awhile.
Take the jug out of the fridge which has been cold fermenting and, carefully over a spread out towel over a counter-top, give it a few gentle shakes or turns to mix the curds, whey, and fat which may have separated a bit. You want it as free flowing as possible for pouring into the strainer.
Put your plastic strainer, which should have large enough holes to allow the fatty mix to get through but not large enough to lose too many of your smaller grains into the kefir. If the holes are too small you will be standing there with a strainer full of kefir that never drains. You might want to experiment with a few, but they have to be plastic, not metal. The strainer should also be large enough that the rim of the strainer fits just over the rim of the bowl, so that you don’t have to constantly hold it and that enough space is left under the strainer that strained milk can collect there.
Open the fermented jar carefully because there is carbon dioxide which will want to escape. Hold the large jar with fermented kefir with both hands and slowly pour as much as you can into the strainer so that it is full. There might be some splashing and plopping as grains and lumpy milk hit lumpy milk. This is normal. Put the jar down and pick up the strainer by the handle and gently rock or move the strainer back and forth to stimulate movement and the straining process. If all goes well you should have a strainer full of grains and a bowl full of kefir. Dump the grains in the strainer to the other bowl, or just keep them in the strainer but for now put the strainer into that other bowl to keep everything straight and orderly.
The next part is optional but if you don’t do it your kefir will be lumpy and the lumpy gritty texture will turn many people, especially kids, off. Also, this step will slow down or stop the tendency for refrigerated strained kefir to separate into curds and whey. All you need to do to mix them is give them a light shake or turn the container over a few times, but still.
You can ladle the strained kefir into a blender, but I prefer one of those handy electric hand mixer things. Get a clean plate to lay it on between uses since I assume that all of the straining up to this point has to be repeated at least once, and it will drip. Simply insert the hand mixer into the bowl of strained kefir and give it a few mixes by pushing or pulsing the button. You can move the mixing end around to make sure you get it all but keep it pretty well submerged or you will end up with kefir all over the place. I know this from experience. Now you kefir will have a delicious creamy and silky texture. You can add mango nectar or some other fruit juice or something to it at this time to flavor it if you don’t like the taste of plain tangy sour kefir. You can mix each container that you will fill with a different flavoring. If you do make sure you do not overfill it with kefir and leave enough room for the flavor component AND the mixer end. Also, if you mix in a plastic bowl or container be careful not to touch or rub the bottom with the mixing end. You don’t want plastic shavings in your kefir. This is why I prefer to mix it in a glass bowl.
I want to take a small tangent here regarding flavoring. Once in an Indian restaurant with an Indian colleague, we had some lovely Mango Lassi, which is an Indian fermented milk beverage. It was pale yellow and delicious. It was mango flavored. One day in the supermarket I found some Goya Mango Nectar. It comes in glass jars and is pretty reasonable. It is of Spanish origin and unless they don;t make a distinction, the sweet added component is sugar, not the toxic high fructose corn syrup which plagues sweetened beverages made in America. The light bulb went on and I remembered the tasty mango lassi from the Indian restaurant. I bought a few bottles and took them home and mixed some into the kefir until I found the right strength for my taste. It also had the awesome side effect of having my 9 year old son drink the healthy kefir beverage, which he won’t touch plain. Chocolate syrup (organic from an organic market) is also a popular kid flavoring for kefir.
Well, after you fill the jars with kefir and the strained bowl is empty or nearly empty, repeat the pouring, straining, and mixing process for this batch. Once your jars are filled you can now finish up. I have two large gallon jugs, one which is cleaned from the last time and the one I just emptied. If you only use one then now is the time to clean the jug well and dry it out with paper towels. Your regular towels might have germs on them and you want to get any chlorinated water from the tap out. Then you put the wide mouth funnel over the top and use the ladle to scoop out your large bunch of kefir grains from the strainer and put them into the jug. When that is finished pour a gallon of fresh milk over them, close it up, shake it a few times to inoculate the milk well, and then put it on the counter-top to start the new ferment. In about 24 hours put it back into the back of the fridge for anywhere from a week to several months if need be.
There you have it, delicious cold fermented kefir. It is also worth noting that many times when I make it this way it is loaded with tiny carbon bubbles that truly make it the champagne of milks!
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