I first met Kefir at Trader Joe’s Grocery store. I’ve always loved yogurt, and when Kefir was introduced to me as “drinkable” yogurt, I thought it was a neat food novelty item and I started buying it for the family and we soon became hooked on this tasty and healthful drink. Two things must be said before I go on, I’m cheap and I’m curious. This combination of often frowned upon personality traits leads me down a lot of paths to explore my inner Lucille Ball. At 4 bucks per quart, and 5 of us drinking, let’s see, 4 quarts per week, that’s . . . carry the 2, and add . . . that’s $80 per month I could easily spend on just Kefir. Well, let me tell you something Friends, that ain’t gonna happen!
You know I’ve started my raw milk journey and by doing so I’ve met the underground, Real Foodies of Middle Tennessee. Oh yeah, we meet in a parking lot, we trade raw milk recipes, seeds and Kefir grains. My mom worries that the food police will get me, I’ll be locked away in a tower and she’ll have to raise my kids. I understand her fear. One of my Real food cohorts, we’ll call him Jimbo to protect his identity, regails me every week with stories of fresh cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, butter and Kefir. So he let me in on the process and even told me he’d “give me some grains the next time they split.” Of course, I pretended to know what he was talking about and went home to brush up on the “grains” he promised to bring the next week. I was still under the impression that Kefir was just a drinkable yogurt, but the truth is, it’s ‘like’ a drinkable yogurt and in reality, it is it’s very own thing. Here’s a history (and the legend) that goes along with this amazing food.
Though still a yogurt like product, it is amazing how broad spectrum the nutrients are in these grains. The grains are a culture of yeast and bacteria living in perfect harmony. When added to milk, they culture lives off of the milk and the end product is a “sour” milk (really fermented) that is now infused and teaming with these good yeast and good bacteria. Your new concoction is full of B Vitamins, Folic Acid, K, biotin, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, enzymes and proteins. This is one of those foods that is surrounded my myth and legend BECAUSE of it’s healing and healthful properties. It almost makes it worth spending the money at Trader Joe’s, naaaah, my stuff is better anyway. Why? Because it is completely unprocessed, unsweetened and has no additives, not even preservatives. Mine is broad spectrum and REAL, and as it turns out, even with the cost of getting my raw milk, mine is cheaper! Less than half price to be exact.
The process of fermenting the milk, also thickens it quite a bit, so I don’t have to leave the fat in to get a creamy product. Now that I’ve made several batches, I’m letting my milk do double duty. I’m pulling the cream off the top to make butter and buttermilk, and using the rest to make Kefir. So, I pay $3.50 per 1/2 gallon of milk. I get 1/2 Cup butter and nearly 2 quarts of Kefir, and 1/2 Cup real Buttermilk and over a cup of liquid whey. Adding to this a generous 50 cents of raw honey to sweeten my batch my total cost for 1/4 pound of grass fed butter, and 1/2 gallon of amazing Kefir, 1/2 Cup Real buttermilk, and 1 Cup of liquid whey is $4. The same products; grass fed, unpasteurized butter ($1.25 per 1/4 pound), buttermilk(lets say $1), unprocessed liquid whey ($2) and Kefir ($4 per quart, and the nutritional value is much less than my own) would cost me roughly $12.25. Waaaaay! So $4 vs. $12.25 for an inferior product. My inner Lucy is just loving this.
One of the the things I have discovered on this adventure, is that everyone has their own take, or tweak, on how to make this. There are so many variations that I’m not going to say this is the right way to do it, this is just one way to make Kefir. For a great referrence site, with tons of how to info visit Dom. Here is my process:
To make 1/2 Gallon of Kefir, you will need:
- 1/2 gallon of milk. You may use cow, goat or yak if that’s what you have. And though you can do this with processed milk, I believe the end product is best with raw milk. But work with what you’ve got!
- 2-4 Tablespoons of Kefir grains
- OPTIONAL: 1/4 Cup of raw honey
- 1/2 Gallon glass jar with lid (glass is completely inert and will not interfere or react with the fermentation process. Glass does not allow bacteria and bleach residue to build up either.
- strainer (you may use a stainless steel strainer)
- measuring spoon
- bowl for straining
- stick blender or blender
- turkey baster
Reserve 1/2 Cup milk to store your grains. To start, put your milk in your 1/2 gallon glass jar, leave a couple inches of room at the top to allow the gases to escape. Add 2-4 Tablespoons of Kefir grains to your milk, put the lid on the jar loosely and let this sit out at room temp for 8-24 hours. Eight hours produces a milder, less cultured milk, 48 hours produces a very tart, separated liquid that is thoroughly cultured. At eight hours, the milk will look thicker, taste tangy and have small pockets of a clear liquid floating in it, this is the whey and has a unique slew of it’s own health benefits. If you choose a longer time frame, you will see the curds and whey separate in the jar. This is what I use the turkey baster for. I siphon out most of the whey (saving it for baking) and leave just the thick curds and grains in the jar. Now set up a bowl with a stainer over it, one you don’t have to hold. Tighten the lid on the Kefir and give it some agitation, don’t go crazy shaking, you want to keep the grains intact, but you want the curds to separate from the grains a bit. Poor the Kefir mixture into the strainer and shake and bump the strainer with your palm to let the thick Kefir pass through. You will see the grains (they look like lumpy tapioca to me) collecting in the strainer. Return the grains to your small storage jar and feed them with your reserved milk.
What you have in the bowl is Kefir. I return it to the 1/2 gallon jar, add 1/4 Cup of honey and blend with a stick blender. This gives me a wonderfully smooth finish, and is more reminiscent of the Kefir I use to buy at Trader Joe’s (this means my kids will drink it too). Alone, it just tastes like a tart “plain” yogurt. You can also add fruit, preserves or extracts to flavor your Kefir, be creative, you have permission. If you’ve ever had Gogurt, or if your kids are addicted to the gloopy, sugary substance, you will be relieved to try Kefir. It’s actually got food value, and no added sugar, so you control how sweet and which sweeteners are used. Go ahead, try it, I triple dog dare you!