H’mm. This is odd.

February 10, 2012

Kefir, that is.

Kefir is, essentially, fermented milk, which forms itself into little grains that look nothing in the world as much as tiny cauliflower florets. I found a recipe for kefir cheese, and I thought to myself, “Self? Here’s something you ought to try.

Kefir grains. Think dairy cauliflower.

So, armed with a fresh gallon of milk from the market, and a pint jar with kefir grains, I set to work. I also had most of a gallon of milk left from last week that needed to be used in the worst way, so I quickly set about making ricotta with that. Into the pot it went, probably three quarts’ worth, to heat merrily away until it hit 185 degrees F, whereupon I added a quarter-cup of rice vinegar and a little salt. It made a nice, faintly sweet ricotta, which then went in to a flourless ricotta-almond-hazlenut cake.

Then I took the kefir grains, and poured off the milk in which they were resting. (You use your kefir grains over and over. When you’re through using them, you rinse them off, put them in a jar, and cover them with fresh milk.) I took a five-quart pitcher, poured two quarts of milk from this week’s gallon over it, and added the kefir grains. Then I put a top on it and let it sit 24 hours.

At the end of that time, you have a thick liquid; you rig up a pillowcase over a tall pot (you can’t use cheesecloth; it’s too thin) and you pour the kefir into it. Then I washed out the tall pitcher, twisted the pillowcase up over the handle of a wooden spoon, and hung it to drain.

Innovation-r-us.

The resultant whey has a faintly sour taste. It’s good for baking with, allegedly, but I saved it for making more ricotta, as it is still very “milky.”

The solid that’s left makes something like labneh, or yogurt cheese. Creamy, tart, tasty.

Meanwhile, I took the remaining milk I’d poured off the kefir when I first drained it, and used that with some more milk to attempt to make congetella, which is allegedly like frezh mozz. I followed the instructions, combined the kefir and milk, added a bit of salt, and a bunch of freeze-dried basil. It didn’t want to separate, though I heated it hotter than I allegedly needed to. Well, hell. That’s disappointing. I added some rennet and some citric acid, the two things I’m supposed to add to regular milk to make it make fresh mozz. Finally formed some small, dry curds that refused to knead. It also turned out a very small portion of curds, which were consequently VERY basil-y, and left a boat-load of basil-infused whey, still very milky and quite thick.

After attempting to knead it for some time and being unsuccessful, I finally gave up the ghost when I had something that looked like rather dry ricotta.

H’mm, says I. Let’s experiment. So I took THAT not-mozzarella, and combined it with the extremely dry ricotta the sheep’s milk had made last weekend, and crumbled them all together. Then I put the basil-infused whey back in another clean pot, brought it up to temp, and added some cider vinegar to make yet ANOTHER batch of ricotta. This time, all the milk solids clumped together. I barely drained it, because I knew the other stuff needed more moisture.

Blended all the resultant stuff together with a little basil-infused olive oil, and came up with a pretty doggoned good, if not really creamy, spreadable cheese. It should be pretty kickass on some sliced tomatos, too; I had a bit on some nut crackers.

Basil kefir kinda-ricotta. Or something.

And an impressive toll of dirty pans, bowls, and every wooden spoon in the house. My kefir grains are resting in the fridge for next weekend, when I will do … something … with them. I may get the blender out and try making kefir smoothies, which will disguise the slightly sour taste and allegedly have all sorts of probiotics and health benefits and such.

The origin of kefir, by the way, is on the steppes of Mongolia, where it was made with mare’s milk and carried in leather bags by the Mongol warriors, who could sip on it as they galloped across the countryside en route to sack the next village. Back in the day when I was into genealogy, I traced one line of my ancestry back to Genghis Khan (via Rootsweb, whose accuracy may not be all that and a bag of chips, but it was fun, not to mention explaining a lot of questions about the behavior of Children A, B and C). So if you and y’mama ‘n ’em see me galloping down upon you — get out of the way.

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