We have now been 'making' and consuming kefir for five months and I am still learning how to best care for, and produce, the kind of kefir we like best. Two of the previous posts, Trying Kefir, and Kefir, A Regular Part of Our Diets, give a lot of information about the history and caring of kefir. This time I will try to share some nuances of how kefir ferments and thickens and how to get the best, consistent product for consumption.
When we first received our grains, there were about two to three tablespoons. The directions indicated that this amount of grains needed about two and a half cups of milk to 'feed' them. We initially used whole, store bought milk since our goats were not producing at the time. A few weeks later, we were able to switch over to goat milk. It didn't really seem to matter to the kefir which milk we used. There were no noticeable differences in the end product.
After a while, much quicker than I expected, the grains grew and grew. So I began experimenting with how many to keep and how many to discard or store. I began keeping an extra jar of milk and grains in the frig as a back up supply, and the extra grains beyond that we feed to the chickens.
Over time it seemed that the kefir was becoming thinner and thinner, and I wasn't sure why. I went back and re-read the information from Dom's, The Kefir Lady and Five Acres and a Dream. I still didn't come up with a reason, or what I could do different. I had read that if the curd and whey begin to separate, there are too many kefir grains, so I gradually began to decrease the amount of grains I was using each day. That didn't work, if anything, it produced a thinner product that still separated somewhat. So I went back to these references and read again.
Hhmmmm......then I went back and read my posts again as a last resort. What I realized from the pictures was that I was using about a fourth of the grains that originally arrived in the same amount of milk. Even though I thought I had too many grains because the curd and whey was separating, I actually had too few. So I got the extra grains out of the frig, and added them back together. I'm glad I had them or the process would have taken a little longer.
Over the next week or so, the kefir gradually began to thicken up and resemble what we had originally been making. There seems to be an optimum amount of grains that will grow quickly and make a very smooth, thickened, nice tasting kefir. I think I am now closer to being able to maintain that balance. For a while, I thought I was going to lose the grains because I knew something was wrong, I just didn't know what.
Another thing we have learned, is that after straining, the kefir will store well in the frig for about two days before the flavor becomes more tart, or sourish tasting. We still choose to drink the kefir with a few teaspoons of maple syrup. Kefir has become part of our daily 'medication'. Several times a day when we happen by the frig, we will drink some. The previous articles outline the health benefits so I won't go back into them here. We feel that this daily intake has been a major factor in our ability to stop taking medication for acid stomach and reflux. Medication that we had both been taking for years, not knowing the major impact it was having on our bodies.
There are many natural things we are discovering that we can use instead of commercial, chemical products. Sometimes it takes a while to really understand how things work, but for us, it is time well invested. So, don't give up. Keep trying. Whatever it is you are trying to learn more about may not always go very well. But with time and effort, you may prevail.
Until next time - Fern