I absolutely love kefir and would consider it to be my favorite way to consume dairy. Well, second to raw cream in my coffee :) My love affair with this fermented beverage began when I started shopping at the Portland Farmer's Market in late 2009. We came across Swallowtail Farm & Creamery owned and operated by Sean and Lauren Pignatello of Whitefield, Maine. After tasting their products, we were immediately hooked! Camille and I often joke about her pregnancy with Wilder by saying that he was likely made from their dairy products since she ate so much of their raw dairy products. I would eventually go on to work in their creamery and owe a lot of my knowledge about cheese making and raw dairy to Lauren who has become a good friend and mentor over the years.
Kefir is made by culturing whole milk with the addition of a "grain" which consists of yeasts and bacteria. This grain looks similar to cauliflower but is spongy like a rubber band. Once warmed, these grains proliferate in the milk over the course of about 24 hours and turn the consistency of the milk to that of more liquidy yogurt. The thickened milk also takes on a bubbly, effervescent quality, giving it a delicious taste and consistency. If the milk is cultured correctly, the end results should yield a lactose free beverage that is suitable for those who are lactose intolerant.
Unlike yogurt, kefir has an indefinite shelf life and I find the flavor actually improves the longer it sits in the fridge. Although, kefir doesn't stick around too long in this house, so I am unsure just how long it will last.
Once your kefir is created you have a few options of what to do with it. First and foremost, you can simply drink it as is and enjoy this delicious creation on its own. I'm a big fan of making smoothies with frozen fruit, a touch of maple syrup, and spices like vanilla and cinnamon.
Secondary ferments are another fun way to enhance the flavor of kefir. This is done by straining out the grains then blending it with frozen fruits, herbs, or even cacao powder. Once blended, pour back into a Mason jar, cover, and let sit at room temperature for another 24 hours. The naturally occurring sugars in the fruit will kick in additional fermentation and add a nice bubbly touch to the finished product.
My current favorite way to utilize kefir is to make "cheese". It is so simple, easy to digest, and a great platform for an array of flavors. Think French Onion dip! Onion, garlic, fresh herbs, and sea salt, take this tangy cheese and make it a star at your next party.
How to Make Kefir Cheese
- 1 quart of kefir (grains strained out)
Once your kefir is prepared and the grains removed, pour it into a "nut milk" bag or strainer bag. Hang it above a bowl to drip for 8-12 hours. At this point you should have a thick goat cheese like consistency and your kefir cheese is ready to consume.
Enjoy it as is or add fresh herbs like thyme, parsley, and dill, along with a touch of sea salt.
A Tasty Snack
Rye sourdough buns w/ kefir cheese and freshly picked strawberries.