Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Cheese, Kefir, Kombucha, OH MY

Adventures in cheese making
In a previous post, I mentioned that I had ½ gallon milk that I was turning into kefir in my warm closet. I didn’t like any of the batches made in the closet. There also seems to be an off flavor that reminds me of goat cheese. Although some people love that, it’s not for me. They taste fresher and less sour if I make them on the kitchen counter. I ended up draining the ½ gallon of kefir and making sort of a cream cheese/sour cream substance. I threw it into salad dressing and chip dip. The day I decided to drain it, I happened to notice that an almost full gallon of raw, whole milk seemed to be sour. It was about 12 days since purchase. I went to work and spent my lunch and breaks finding ideas what I should do with it. My coworker, Ravi, put his wife on the phone. She told me how to make paneer, an Indian style of cheese. Now I had a plan! When I got home, the milk jug seemed a lot more empty. I asked my husband about it and he said the kids had been drinking it. Even the boy drank it! Later that day I observed Cassie saying to herself, “Let me have some more of that sour milk.” I asked her if she liked it a little sour and she said yes. I didn’t try it, so I don’t know how far gone it was. I just think it’s kind of funny that I thought it was sour and the kids drank it anyway.

The other night I made butter with raw cream and a jar. Here is how I did it. I posted it on Facebook and my friend Alice says it is fun only once. I think she is right.

Sauerkraut story
When I made sauerkraut the first time, I used only salt and packed it into the plastic, one-gallon sun tea jar. The second time I made it, I packed it away in there but I had less of it, so I decided to follow the instructions from Nourishing Traditions. I used less salt and I added whey. I put it into one half-gallon canning jar and one quart canning jar. About 1 week later I went into the cupboard to get out something else and found the ½ gallon jar had broken from the pressure. I am really disappointed because that was the larger amount and it was so much work. With broken glass, you have to throw it all away. The other one had also expanded so I dumped it out and put it in a former pickle jar which is larger. It wasn’t ready yet, so I put it back into the cabinet. I topped it off with more whey in order to keep it submerged. The dumb thing about this is that I still have a large jar of purchased sauerkraut in the fridge.

Fermented beverages
I broke down and bought water kefir grains (WKG) and a kombucha mother from Cultures for Health. I rehydrated the WKG according to the instructions. Then I set up the first batch of water kefir. I made it with only water and white sugar. I tasted it after 24 hours and it was still sweet. I don’t know what this is supposed to taste like. It seemed just like sugar water; there was no fermented flavor. Tonight I added the juice of 2 lemons to make lemonade with it. I put it in bottles for the secondary fermentation for a couple days before drinking it. The idea is to offer my kids an additional healthy beverage that they might enjoy. Beth tried it and she thought it was OK. I have been scouring the internet looking for good recipes.

I started the kombucha 6 days ago. The paper coffee filter covering it has the date it was made, in case I lose track of time. I made a black, Chinese tea (Yunnan Noir from Adagio) that I don’t care for all that much, assuming that the culture eats up a lot of the sugar/tea flavor. Every now and then I pull the jar out and check the mother. I talk nicely to it, like one of my plants. Yesterday I went to the grocery store and bought 2 bottles of plain kombucha to have as a yardstick. I compared mine to the commercial product. I noticed an odd flavor in mine, and then I recognized it as the black tea I used. It was still quite sweet, so I put it back. Because I don’t want to drink a lot of sugar, it needs to go for 14-20 days. I let Cassie and Beth try the commercial kombucha. Beth hated it but Cassie liked it.

While searching the internet for good kombucha information, I ran across an eBook about laboratory studies that were done in 1995 on thousands of batches. The eBook was $15 and I considered it a worthy investment if it leads me to the best practices of making kombucha. It was written by a kombucha enthusiast to demystify and debunk the mythology that goes along with kombucha. From what I read, the best results are with an equal amount of black and green tea. White sugar and brown sugar lead to different but not bad results. It’s a very technical book. I’m haven’t finished reading the book and I hope it goes into health benefits.

I wonder how all of these fermented beverages will fit into my lifestyle. Just one of them should be enough to sustain good health over the course of a lifetime. I’m the only one drinking the milk kefir. The kombucha might have the same outcome. I really hope the kids like the water kefir. We have this idea in the U.S. that if a little is good, more is better. It seems counter-productive to drink lots of different kinds of fermented beverages every day. Each one of these evolved in different places. They were not used all together. Keeping these cultures alive feels like a commitment, like having pets.


  1. Did you have your lids tightly screwed on your sauerkraut jars? A lot of recipes that I have say to keep the lids very very loose so the excess liquid can bubble out the top. I always wondered what would happen if it was on too tight...
    I'll have to check out kombucha and kefir - I'm completely ignorant of these substances!

    I did make paneer once, when I was in university. I just heated up milk, and then added some lemon juice and collected up the curds. I should try this again...

  2. Hi Valerie--thought i would visit your blog and i love it! I was planning on posting a HUGE kombucha how to in a bit--but now i will post it tomorrow! I left you a reply on my blog, but thought i would copy it here for you--seriously, i will get better at this somewhere along the line! take care and have a good weekend--oh,, and whenever working with whey--two days out of the fridge max--and you can loosen the lid every evening to let off a little pressure--

    take care!
    Hi valerieAnne, thank you for your comments--the book in question is titled healthy at 100 and here is a discussion of it on about.com


    He went in search of a vegan society--and he didnt find one...

    I read the book a few years ago and was taken by the fact that all these cultures ate animal protien--see, at the time, because of health issues stemming from lymes disease i was a raw vegan....it really affected me to see that traditional cultures ate animal products...since that time, i have converted to a more "nourishing traditions" lifestyle to my healths benefit..

    :) Alex

  3. I don't see a way to e-mail you, so sorry this is off topic here, but this is why I believe the agave nectar I use is safe: