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A Dummies Guide to Kefir

Posted 7/25/2019 11:31am by Kinley Coulter.

     Here at Coulter Farms we spend a fair amount of family time good-naturedly squabbling about what dairy products we do or don’t want to produce from our precious Sun-Golden Certified Organic 100% Grassfed Jersey milk.  One item we all feel very good about producing is Kefir.  

    A whole day of our milk production goes into making Kefir bi-weekly and we would like to make more… so I will endeavor (through this shameless marketing ploy) to turn you 'non-kefir drinking' folk into 'kefir neophytes'… with the confident expectation that after you try it… you will advance to becoming full-blown kefir addicts, like we are.

     Our list of FAQ’s from farm-market stretches to many dozens of common questions.  But the single most asked question is: ‘What IS kefir?’ 
     I’d like to answer that question here, in a little more detail than I have time to do at market.
     First, a little background on exactly WHAT Kefir IS.  Then... some practical information about how we make it and what it’s good for:
     Kefir (variously pronounced: KEE-fur, KEH-fur, ke-FEER) is a fermented milk beverage that has been enjoyed by hardy, healthy people for thousands of years. The word ‘kefir' is related to the Russian and Turkish words for ‘foam’… referencing the effervescent carbonation foam that results from fermenting the milk’s lactose (milk sugar) into a variety of stomach soothing and 'probiotic nurturing' acids.  Traditionally, sheep, goat and cow milk from the Caucasus, Turkey, Russia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe was inoculated with living kefir ‘grains' that, today, are called SCOBY’s (an Acronym for: a symbiotic community of bacteria and yeasts.)  These ‘grains' produced a robust and vigorous fermentation of the milk that would taper off and stop after several hours.
     To generate a more complete fermentation, the inoculated milk was put in goatskin bags and hung in a busy doorway.  Anyone that entered or left the house (or tent) was culturally expected to poke an elbow into the squishy bag of nascent kefir to jumpstart the stalled fermentation.
     Unlike yogurt which must be fermented at elevated temperatures, kefir SCOBYs do their amazing work at room temperature.  Here at Coulter Farms, we ferment our whole milk at 75 degrees for about 24 hours.  Sadly, we have yet to find a USDA approved goat-skin bag... so we have to make do with a 100 gallon stainless steel tank.  It’s not very romantic but it saves our dairy inspector from getting apoplectic when he visits us.  
     ‘Elbowing' this stainless steel tank is not very helpful..(AND  a little painful)... so we keep our fermentation going by mildly stirring the milk in the tank.  We are always careful not to over-stir… the amazing and complex flavor molecules in milk shatter into insipid pieces when milk is handled roughly.  Pumping milk (and worse, yet, homogenizing it…) wrecks the taste of all good milk, cheese, butter and yogurt, and kefir… so we transport almost all of our milk with extreme gentleness, hardly ever exposing it to a mechanical pump.  
     So we don’t elbow our kefir but you can rest assured that it is BARELY stirred enough to keep the fermentation on track.  You will taste the difference… I guarantee it! Here is Jess, ready to put our kefir bottler to work.
      The marvelous kefir that emerges from this fermentation vat has had essentially all of its lactose consumed… so, most people with lactose intolerance will find kefir to be very easy on their stomach.  In cultures where refrigeration is a rich-man's luxury, they appreciate that kefir can be stored for up to 30 days at room temperature.  We date our kefir for 35 days WITH refrigeration but we have experimented with drinking kefir that is several months old, and have not found it to spoil (it does get plenty sour, though.)  
     Many people appreciate that yogurt has a profound settling effect on their stomachs.  We have found that effect is multiplied in kefir.  Kefir has a much wider diversity of living bacteria species than yogurt... not to mention a variety of yeasts that are not present in yogurt at all.  If you ever want to eat breakfast, but you’re just not feeling like eating… try a little kefir and your appetite will come ROARING back.  
     As a Certified Organic farm, we never treat debilitating diarrhea in young calves with antibiotics.  We are glad to replace yucky antibiotics with far more effective probiotic kefir.  We have, many times, found a weak young calf struggling to eat, or even to stand up, hampered by diarrhea.  After gobbling down a quart of kefir, these calves have had remarkable, almost instant, recovery.  By the way, kefir works wonders on most varieties of gastro-intestinal distress in 2 legged creatures as well.
     Most of our kefir ends up just getting poured and drinken (drinked? drank?  drunk?) out of a glass.  But drinking kefir is just the proverbial ’tip of the iceberg’...  
     It really shines when used as a base in salad dressings, as a meat tenderizer, as a replacement for buttermilk in baking (kefir pancakes and waffles are out of this world!)  There is no end to the possibilities... kefir can be made into ice cream, used as a starter for sour-dough..... or just dump in some fresh fruit and enjoy a smoothie.  
     We add our honey and some vanilla to kefir, to make a bottled flavored kefir... but that's for the 'faint of heart'.  The true kefir aficionado tolerates nothing that dulls the glorious tang of unadulterated kefir... the first sip sets your teeth on edge... but from then on... YUM!  
     I hesitate to use the term 'life-changing' but if there is one of our products that I could say that about, with a straight face, it would be kefir.  We have added it to our store so we can ship it to 50 states.  It will ship out of here frozen... but if it arrives thawed, or even warm... we recommend that you just stick it in your goat-skin bag and give it a few bumps with your elbow!  Bon Apetit!