Tis the season of shepherds and kings and gifts and all so I figured it was the perfect time to share this story. Earlier this year, Chuck gifted me with a box containing a teaspoon of complex micro-organisms comprised of bacteria, yeast and enzymes. Pretty cool, right?! Now many of you may already be saying to yourselves that you are glad this isn’t something that you would ever receive from your mate but those of you who really know me know that I was thrilled. It was an opportunity to learn and try something new.
For at least fifteen years, Chuck and I have been drinking kefir (think drinkable yogurt). Many people drink it for purported health benefits because it contains natural probiotics and is supposed to be more digestible than milk. The word ‘kefir’ means ‘long life’ in Turkish. I make no claims about the health benefits but I do know that we both like it and the sweet flavor of our favorite store-bought brands often serves as a simple, quick, ‘lower-calorie than desserts’ solution in our house when the sweet tooth strikes.
You may recall that a few months back we tried our hand at making kombucha at home and it was a huge success. So we figured making our own kefir would be just as easy and would give us the chance to make our own preferred flavors there too. Hence, the reason I was gifted with my very own teaspoon of milk kefir grains.
As a quick aside, in case you are wondering where milk kefir grains come from, that is where the shepherds come in. Kefir grains are living organisms that occur in nature and are capable of preserving fresh milk. According to legend, shepherds in the Caucasus mountains of Russia discovered thousands of years ago that milk left in their leather pouches would sometimes ferment and turn into an effervescent drink. It was believed that the grains that caused this transformation were gifts from Mohamed to the people of this region and so the grains were passed down from generation to generation like family heirlooms.
Now in possession of our own teaspoon of ‘family grains’, we set out to follow the instructions on how to make kefir magic. We started by putting the grains in a jar with a cup of full fat non-homogenized milk. You see, those little kefir grains have to eat and they thrive on milk fat and lactose so no skim milk was going to do to get these little critters a-hummin’.
After placing a coffee filter over the top of the milk, we sat it on the counter at room temperature to activate. Amazingly, after about 12 hours, we already had a thickened consistency. Those little guys were hungry!
We strained out the grains, tasted the freshly made kefir (kinda sour for our liking), put the cup in the refrigerator for later, put the grains back in a jar and added more fresh milk (this time adding an extra 1/2 cup). The jar went back on the counter to sit and, after about 15 hours, we again had a thickened consistency.
This went on for a few days. Feed the little beasts. Extract the kefir. Add more milk. Feed the little beasts. Extract the kefir. Add more milk. In short order, we had worked our way up to four cups of milk being processed over a 24 hour period and we were tending to the grains every day. Hey! This was becoming a commitment!
Now daily commitments aren’t a bad thing if it is something that yields benefits, but we were still finding the results to be too sour for our taste buds. We tried adding honey, sugar, jam, maple syrup and a few other flavor enhancers but nothing was making our kefir even palatable, let alone as enjoyable as a store-bought bottle.
What to do with a half-gallon or so of sour milk?! We made some awesome buttermilk bread and the best pancakes from scratch that we have ever made! That little bit of effervescence in the kefir really made them light and fluffy. But, at the end of the day, we didn’t need to be turning good fresh milk into sour milk just to turn around and have to find a way to use it up.
We continued on a few more days until our full-fat milk supply ran out (I preferred that the kefir grains ate all that fat, rather than me!) before calling it quits on the great kefir experiment of 2016.
At the moment, those hungry little grains are in the refrigerator where they are too cold to want to eat…for now.
I know I haven’t done the best job of selling the by-product but the adventure was a blast. In this season of gifting and eating, if any of you would like to ‘regift’ some happy and healthy kefir grains, just let me know! 😉