What is Kefir:
Kefir is not so familiar to folks in America but in many traditional cultures fermented milk products such as Kefir and Yogurt have been prepared at home for centuries. Culturing fresh milk into Kefir makes the nutritional factors in the milk, such as vitamins and minerals, extremely bio-available so your body can easily absorb and digest them.
Kefir contains a complex culture of many healthy, hearty bacterial strains, passed down from family to family for centuries.
Kefir can be made as a mild and thick textured milk for drinking or making into "Smoothies" or other delicious beverages as well as a more tangy thicker version that can be drained as a cheese wonderful treat similar to "Greek style" drained yogurt or even molded into a cheese and ripened further for several days or weeks. Some folks have even used the Kefir culture with rennet in making a Kefir cheese, which will use not only the lactose working bacteria but also the yeast and other Kefir components.
Why Make Kefir:
So often we get comments from folks who would like to make yogurt from raw milk but do not want to increase the temperature high enough to damage the natural milk bacteria and enzymes following the directions on our Yogurt page.
Kefir is the solution! Make Kefir from this milk instead of Yogurt.
In making Kefir nothing really gets heated higher than the temperature of mama cow. This means that all of the bacteria and enzymes you have spent so much time to get in your raw milk will not be destroyed in the final Kefir product.
Comparing Kefir to Yogurt:
In addition to lactic fermentation Kefir also undergoes alcoholic fermentation caused by the presence of yeast, which yields this sourish, yeasty, sparkling, refreshing end product. Also as mentioned above Yogurt production involves temperatures that destroy the natural enzymes and bacteria of raw milk whereas Kefir temperatures are low enough to preserve these.
Kefir from grains or "Direct Set" culture:
In making Kefir you have 2 options to consider for your first batch of Kefir. Traditionally people would save the granular bits that formed at the bottom of the Kefir jar to begin a new batch with fresh milk. Todays option is to use special culture powders that will always guarantee the same degree of activity. Since we are most interested in our customers having consistent results from batch to batch we have chosen to provide this "Direct Set".
- The Kefir grains may produce a more complex product but they need to be re-cultured in a timely manner to keep the Kefir going. This does not always fit into peoples schedules in our modern times
- Our Direct set C45 Kefir culture and C46 Re culturable Kefir culturecan made at any time from the culture packs and yet can be re-cultured if desired for many generations.
How to make Kefir:
Making Kefir is actually easier than making yogurt. In making traditional yogurt a step is needed to release the whey proteins for a thick textured Yogurt by increasing temperature to 185ºF and holding it there for 10 to 20 minutes (from our Yogurt page). This will destroy all of the natural enzymes and bacteria found in raw milk since this is in excess of even normal pasteurization temperature.
When making Kefir
Kefir as you like it:
The final Kefir can be more or less acidic as you might prefer it by simply increasing or decreasing the time you allow it to ripen. 8 hours will produce a mild acid flavor and a smooth milky consistency where a 12 hour or longer ripening period will produce a thicker and tangier flavor.
In making test batches of Kefir here I have allowed the milk to ripen for different time periods ranging from 6 to 48 hours with the results shown below.
- At 6 hours this is a mild fermented milk that flows just a bit thicker than unfermented milk but contains all of the good things in the Kefir (pH is greater than 5.3).
- At 12 hours the milk develops a nice tang from the culture activity and has become much thicker (pH of 5.1 to 4.7).
- At 24 to 48 hours, the milk becomes much thicker and forms a good soft curd. The flavor has a wonderfully refreshing acidity (pH is now as low as 4.3-4.5).
This cheese follows in the path of Lebnah, a drained yogurt cheese.
With the longer ripened, more acidic kefir above, the curd becomes firm enough to drain through a double layer of butter muslin. This will allow about 1/3 of the volume to drain off as whey and the curd now becomes a very thick curd which can be used with fruit similar to the greek styled drained yogurt. I like this drained Kefir better because of its more complex flavor.
Another approach is to drain the Kefir to the point that the thick curds can be rolled into small balls and allowed to air dry a bit and form a dry rind (usually requiring air movement such as a small fan). When dry enough these can even be mixed with olive oil and herbs for a real treat.
If the milk does not thicken into kefir or the kefir turns out too thin here are a few point to consider to find out why:
1) the milk may have gotten too cool during the ripening period,
2) the milk may have cooled down too much before you added the culture,
3) you may have not put enough starter from the previous kefir batch in the milk (usually 1 to 2 tablespoons of the previous culture per quart of milk will be adequate),
4) your starter may have been too old and no longer active (the kefir culture is usually good for 7 to 10 days, sometimes longer),
5) you may have accidentally overheated the milk together with the culture, which kills the culture, or
6) everything may be fine except that you may need to let the milk culture longer to be a firmer texture (12 to 24 hours).