Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Dairy Kefir

I've been making dairy kefir for quite some time now, but realized that I never have posted about it.  So here goes!  Dairy kefir is made by adding dairy kefir grains to milk. You can use almost any kind of milk - raw cow's milk, raw goat's milk, pasteurized milk (but not ultra-high temperature pasteurized), homogenized milk, and I've even seen blogs on using coconut milk to make kefir. It is generally recommended to use whole fat milk, rather than low-fat or skim milk.

 The dairy kefir grains, like water kefir grains, are a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. But don't be confused with the two types of kefir grains... they are different in the way they look and the way they eat sugars. Dairy kefir grains look kind of like cauliflower. They're sort of a pale yellow/whitish color and clump together. Dairy kefir grains feed off of the lactose/milk sugar. The resulting kefir is low in lactose, while rich with beneficial bacteria and yeast. It also contains high levels of vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. Kefir is often compared to yogurt because they have similar tastes. While yogurt does contain some beneficial bacteria, kefir is much better for you. It contains five times more beneficial organisms than yogurt and includes beneficial yeasts as well as bacteria, while yogurt only contains beneficial bacteria. These beneficial bacteria and yeasts are good for digestion and help to keep your gut healthy. They also help your body protect itself against viruses, disease, and parasites.

Dairy kefir has many uses. You may drink or eat it plain; use it in smoothies; use it as your acid medium to soak grains/nuts/seeds; or use it to make ice cream, popsicles, salad dressing, cheese, and so much more, I'm sure. So far, I have really only used mine plain, flavored it with pureed fruit, in smoothies, in salad dressing, and for soaking grains. I have wanted to expand my uses of kefir, but just haven't gotten around to it yet. Hopefully I will soon.

Dairy Kefir

2 tablespoons of kefir grains
1 quart of milk

If your kefir grains are dehydrated when you get them, you should follow the directions that come with them to get them hydrated.

It will take your kefir grains some time to become acclimated to your house and your milk. This could take anywhere from a couple of days to a month, according to some sources. You may want to start with only one cup of milk for the first few batches to get your grains acclimated and not waste much milk. Once your grains are fully acclimated, you can use the full quart of milk to make kefir. Make sure you're not using too many grains for the amount of milk you are culturing. You only need about 2 tablespoons for a quart. If you have more, your chances of it separating into curds and whey are higher and the yeast will be in overabundance in the resulting kefir... which does not taste the best.

I started out with some kefir grains from my sister-in-law and had decent luck with them.  Although I never really got a nice, thick kefir out of them.  Unfortunately, those grains died over the holidays when I stopped making kefir due to just plain being too busy.  Just before New Years, I got some more grains from my dairy farmer.  These have been awesome since they were cultured in the same raw milk that I am using.  My kefir is now nice, thick, and creamy.  This isn't the most appetizing picture, but it shows how thick my kefir now gets after 18 hours.  The cream that has risen to the top is extra-thick.  You can also see the kefir grains, which rise to the top as they culture.

To make kefir, pour milk into a wide-mouth quart sized jar. Add the dairy kefir grains and stir gently with a wooden or plastic spoon (don't use metal as it does not react well with the grains). Cover with a cloth, paper towel, or coffee filter, and secure with a rubber band... or just loosely place a jar lid on the jar.  Leave at room temperature away from other cultures to prevent cross-contamination. Ideal room temperatures are between 65 - 80 degrees. It will take longer to culture/ferment with cooler temperatures (like in the winter) and faster with warmer temperatures (like in the summer). If you have your kefir near a heat source (the stove, oven, crockpot, etc.), keep in mind that it will culture more quickly. 

You may culture the kefir until you are satisfied with the thickness and taste. You may want to try tasting it after 12 hours, then 24 hours, 36 hours, and 48 hours. It will get more thick and more sour over time. If you let it go too long, you will see the kefir separate into curds and whey. You might also see some yellow liquid surrounding the kefir grains, this is the beginning of this separation into curds and whey. Its fine to let the kefir culture to this point, if that is what you like or what you want. We tend to like our kefir after about 18 hours in the summer. I'm finding I have to let it culture a little longer in the winter if I leave it on the counter... usually to between 24 and 36 hours now.  But I generally just turn my oven light on and place my jar in the oven with the light on.  Its done after about 18 hours. 

After about 8 or 10 hours, gently stir the culturing kefir.  You will see the grains floating on top - the bumpy stuff. Stirring after the milk has partially cultured will help achieve a smooth consistency.

When you've decided the taste and thickness are right for your family, remove the grains with a wooden or plastic spoon, or use a plastic strainer... remember don't use metal! Transfer the kefir grains to a new batch of milk, or store in the refrigerator until you need them again. Do not rinse the grains - you really only want to rinse the grains if you fear cross-contamination, or are switching to a different type of milk.

Cover the finished kefir and refrigerate.
Dairy kefir grains may be stored in the refrigerator in a small amount of milk. This will keep for one or two weeks.

This post is posted as part of the Tuesday Twister at GNOWFGLINS and Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop.


The Voogts said...

Glad you got some kefir going. I'm amazed I kept mine alive during morning sickness :P I let it go for a while.

I know it's not the way most people do it, but I use a lot less milk with quite a few grains. Gets the kefir strong and thick quickly :) I make about a pint at a time. I've been making it about twice a week lately to use in smoothies. Next week...back to making it with Mooville. Hopefully my grains adjust quickly.

Sara said...

I was really bad and forgot to switch out the milk I was storing the grains in between Thanksgiving and Christmas. If I would have switched out the milk, I'm sure they would have survived. I was so bummed when I realized they had died. But Kris always has extra kefir grains in the fridge that are free for taking, so I was glad for that!

How long do you culture yours for, Mary? With more grains and less milk, does it cultures in less than half the time? I used to make only a pint at a time when I first got the grains from you, but it always separated on me. It would be the consistency of milk and then suddenly just separate the next hour when I checked it. If it separated, it always tasted too strong for me when I mixed it back together. It stopped separating when I used the quart of milk.

I am doing 2-3 quarts a week now. Just depends how many times we make smoothies. I use almost the entire quart when I make us smoothies, usually.

The Voogts said...

I usually culture mine for 24-28 hours. Plus it thickens as it sits in the fridge. Mine does separate a little. But I just shake it and it's fine. Wow, 2-3 quarts is a lot! I don't think we'd ever use that much. Maybe I'll have to try a larger batch sometime and see if there is a big difference in taste. Ours is quite strong. So I use close to a pint for smoothies, but also some plain yogurt to balance it out. I definitely couldn't eat it plain.

Sara said...

I don't care for the taste if mine separates, either. When I was doing small batches at first (when I first got the grains from you last year), I kep wondering why it tasted so different (way more sour) than the kefir I had been buying at the store. It got better and tasted more normal once I started doing the quarts. Then I learned the reason why I didn't like it much when it separated... the yeasts were overtaking the bacteria. I can drink it plain, but I do prefer it with some flavor/sweetness.

Cheryl said...

Have you actually tried it in homogenized/pasteurized milk? I had great success with raw milk but mine died in Horizon Organic milk..maybe it was me..but I thought it was the milk.