Ever since probiotics and prebiotics became the hot new functional food additive, bacteria in general has seen a monumental rise in popularity. Funny as it may sound, these “good bugs” have understandably suffered from image issues for years, often sounding about as appetizing as the carpet lint you might find beneath the sofa. Now that their healthy attributes are being touted left and right, it seems that people are much more willing to try fermented foods, and that in itself is a beautiful thing. Without these bacteria, not only would we be missing out on the digestive benefits that they impart, but fabulous treats like kefir, and thus kefir cheese, would be impossible.
Still jazzed about my little fermentation experiments, I was thrilled to be gifted some kefir grains to play with. Before you start worrying about any milk involved, let me assure you that it’s absolutely possible to make completely vegan kefir at home. Yes, many standard kefir grains will be of dairy origin (meaning, they were essentially “fed” with milk, but are not made of milk themselves) but water kefir grains, otherwise known as tibicos, will have never touched the stuff. Though intended for making a beverage similar to kombucha using coconut water, they can also be quite effective at turning soymilk* into standard kefir. Unlike regular kefir grains, however, they will not multiply and continue to grow; Over time, they will in fact “die” and stop turning your soymilk sour.
Whew… Got all that? It may sound complicated, but once you get your raw materials straight, it’s really a walk in the park. To make soy kefir, I take a quart of unsweetened, plain soymilk and about 1/2 tablespoon kefir grains to get things going. The soymilk should be just barely warmed, to about room temperature, before your plunk in your grains. Store the whole thing in a large mason jar with the lid on but not screwed tight. That’s all there is to it- Just let it sit and do its thing. It should take between 3 – 7 days to get sufficiently sour kefir, so just keep tasting it until you’re happy with the results. My grains, however, were surprisingly voracious little bacteria beasts, and fermented my soymilk so quickly in just 2 days that it actually separated in to curds and whey!
Clearly, I had only one reasonable choice of action here: Make kefir soy cheese. Reaching into the jar with very clean hands, I fished out the hungry bacteria blobs and set them right back to work on a fresh quart of soymilk. Just like the procedure for any other fresh cheese, I then poured the whole concoction into a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth, catching the whey that filtered out below. Hang on to that stuff, it’s great for baking! Let the curds drain for a day or two in the fridge, until thickened to your liking, and that’s it!
It works beautifully as a ricotta subsitute, and can take the place of just about any other soft or fresh cheese. Just add a pinch of salt, and perhaps a touch of white miso or nutritional yeast if desired. To make the dip pictured above, I went with all the aforementioned recommendations, plus a handful of fresh chives and parsley. Doesn’t get much easier than that!
Plus, it makes an excellent stand-in for cream cheese or cheese spread on bagels, sandwiches, wraps- Anything you can think of smearing it on, really. There’s practically no limit to how kefir cheese can be used!
*I would imagine that other non-dairy milks would work as well- I have only used soy so far, and can’t make any promises for anything other than coconut, which has been well-documented to be a successful growing medium.