Timing Milk Kefir
Many people go through three phases when it comes to milk kefir. Stage one is learning about how wonderful milk kefir is for you and then determining that you must make it and eat it yourself. Stage two is learning how to make milk kefir. The final stage is drinking the milk kefir and loving it... or not.
And if they do not love the flavor they often falsely assume that they simply do not like milk kefir and never will.
The problem with that assumption is that milk kefir can be cultured differently to produce a different-flavored kefir. The milk itself does matter, but the timing of the culture and the temperature at which it is cultured can produce a slightly tangy mild kefir or a strongly flavored robust kefir, depending on the variables.
If you’re brand new to milk kefir and would like to dip your toes in the wading pool, then we recommend starting with a mildly flavored kefir.
Here are examples of three different culture times and the end results they may produce. In this scenario room temperature is an average 68-72 degrees, and we will explore temperature control later on.
12 Hours. This is as simple as placing kefir grains in a jar with milk in the evening. The next morning strain out the kefir grains and you will have mildly tangy cultured milk. It will probably still be fairly thin, like milk, and not have a lot of “tang” to it as a more robust kefir would have.
Because it has only cultured for 12 hours you can be fairly certain that a fair bit of lactose still remains in the milk. You may also be able to drink this kefir without any flavorings as it is quite mild.
24 Hours. To produce this kefir simply combine kefir grains and milk in the morning and allow to kefir all day and night. The next morning you will find that your kefir is a bit thick, somewhere between yogurt and milk, and once you taste it you will notice a stronger flavor. It shouldn’t be overpowering, but it will have a distinctly tangy, yeasty kefir flavor.
This type of kefir, if your palate isn’t accustomed to it yet, is wonderful in smoothies. Its stronger flavor is masked by the sweet fruits and add-ins and it goes well with ice or frozen fruit as well.
This length of culturing will ensure that much of the lactose in the milk has been consumed by the culture.
48 Hours. This kefir is for the veteran kefir lover. When cultured on the counter top for 48 hours the kefir will generally begin to separate into curds and whey. These two components of the kefir can be whisked back together to make a homogenous mixture. You can also put these curds and whey through a cheesecloth-lined sieve and strain the whey out to create a kefir cheese with a cream cheese-like texture.
You can be assured with the longer culturing time that the milk sugar lactose has been completely consumed by the kefir culture.
The flavor of this kefir is almost cheese-like and very tangy. It is best suited for kefir cheese or a kefir beverage for those who truly enjoy all of the acid and yeast flavors of kefir.
Taking Temperature into Account
If you are working in a kitchen that is not centrally heated to a perfect 68-72 degrees you may be wondering how you will produce consistent results. The full answer is that you will have to go through some trial and error through the various seasons to determine how long to culture your kefir to get results that are to your liking.
During this trial and error, though, you can keep one principle in mind: If your kitchen is 10 degrees cooler or more then you will require an extra 12 hours. If your kitchen is 10 degrees warmer or more than you will require 6 or fewer hours to achieve the flavor you prefer.
If you are in extremely warm temperatures try to find a space that allows a bit of air flow, but is still insulated. A cooler just barely cracked is one way; a root cellar or a small hole in the ground is a more traditional method.
So make sure you give kefir a shot by using the above culturing times. You may be surprised to find that you actually really love kefir — mild or extra zingy!