A Fermented Feast

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.

31 thoughts on “A Fermented Feast

  1. You’re such a genius Hannah ! I wouldn’t have thought making vegan cream cheese with kefir. This is such a good idea ! Kefir grains are vegan over here in organic food shops, so it wouldn’t be that difficult to get some. Your picture reminds me Tzatziki. Can’t wait to try it !

  2. Always the brilliant scientist, Hannah!
    I’m sending this to my sister in law, who’s youngest son can’t eat dairy. Thanks!

    Also, I make my own vegan cream cheese with soaked cashews, lemon juice and miso. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. It’s a raw food thing. I love it, and it really really really does taste like the real thing.

  3. Try making “Kim Chi.” It’s incredibly easy, and takes about 6 yo 7 days of fermentation outside of the ‘frig. There are many recipes on the web.

    Extraordinary taste.

    Sauerkraut takes several weeks, but it’s just salt and cabbage, and is light-years beyond the taste of the canned stuff.

    FYI, Mark

  4. This is genius!!
    I caught myself just two days ago, lingering around the cream cheese section, which is ridiculous, as I´m highly allergic to milk. Your idea sounds perfect! I think I will try this using regular soy yogurt as a starter, b/c I can´t imagine finding water kefir grains anywhere. I´m off to the kitchen right now!!

    Thank you soo much for sharing :)

    Have a beautiful day!

    xoxo Mel

  5. I have been making water kefir for the past few months from water kefir grains with sugary syrup and water followed by a second ferment with a little juice. This has become a staple in our home, but I have been researching in vain to see if I could use the water kefir grains (instead of milk kefir grains that are grown in goats milk) in soy, rice, or coconut milk. By the way, you can keep water kefir grains living indefinitely and often reproducing by adding a source of calcium like molasses or calcium powder to the mix while it ferments.

    My grains have grown enough that I have some extra grains that I will have to use to try this method.

  6. Very fun. On a random note, do you have any favorite recipes for a cashew-based savory (think alfredo) cream sauce, either raw or cooked. I’ve been craving one ever since eating at one of Karyn’s restaurants here in Chicago, but haven’t found one online that sounds right and figured you would be my go to girl.

  7. Oh, wow! This is so beyond me, both in terms of kitchen skills and access to kefir grains. But hey, a girl can dream, particularly with you as inspiration! :D

  8. This sounds great! I was already planning on going to pick up some kefir grains from a friend tomorrow to start experimenting with non-dairy kefirs myself. Two questions for you:

    1. Do you let the curds drain in the refridgerator or still at room temperature? I don’t have a lot of experience with fermented foods, so I’m always nervous about something going bad on me.

    2. Have you ever tried making kefir with almond milk? I’d like to try with the chocolate flavored Almond Breeze!

  9. Oh! The concept is so fascinating. I know some of my friend use kefir to make yoghurt – why not cheese? :D

  10. Good thing I have kefir grains, so I’ll be able to follow your instructions ;)
    I’ll ask a friend to translate your text because google is very bad and I hardly understand the meaning :(
    In any case, it is very tasty as always :)

    Bravo hannah, you’re a chef :)

  11. Hi Hannah,

    this soy cheese spread looks super yummy. When you say “drain the curd for a day or two”, do you keep it at room temperature or in the fridge. Sorry for such a silly question :-( I am new in this domain and would like to try soon!!

  12. Mmmm, that spread looks delicious. I just heard about coconut water kefir a few weeks ago and looked into getting some kefir water grains. I found a lot of people who told me they had water kefir grains but as it turns out, they actually created them from milk grains. I did find one lady who had true water kefir grains (never from milk) but then I got hooked on kombucha and decided one fermenting experiment in my house at a time was enough! However, after knowing now that there’s so much more to it than fizzy beverages, I may have to get some after all!

  13. Amazing! I’ve never fermented anything before but you make me want to give it a try. That cheese looks so creamy and rich, what a beautiful idea. Adding chives and parsley is brilliant, I bet that takes the deliciousness to a whole new level.

  14. Great idea! I make water kefir regularly but did not thing about making soy milk kefir… will have to try this week.

    Which brand of milk did you use, Hannah?

  15. AS usual very fascinating and amazing Hannah. Well you gave a whole new meaning to fermented food. Though i am used to fermented food,I still give it a second thought before putting it in my mouth. But this recipe I will try it without second thought.

  16. How interesting…we love kefir, but never tried the soy version…it sure looks creamy and yummie! As always Hannah you are very creative :-)

  17. Awesome! Crystal has been talking about kefir water crystals– it seems so mysterious to me! I love learning about all of the fermentation opportunities that are available sans dairy. I love what you created out of this– your creative process is so ambitious!

  18. I am always suprised when I visit, you are really a creative cook, Ilove keifer but would have never thought to creative such a tasty treat!!

    great recipe

  19. I am going to have to find the time to sit down and trawl your back posts Hannah, I have missed out on some absolute gems of recipes by having no time…I wonder if anyone will time share me some time? ;)

      1. I find that the earlier posts tend to be really interesting on most blogs. I just have over 200 blogs in my RSS Feed Reader and finding time to trawl through back posts isn’t often an option for me. I found that cheese on Pinterest! ;) I love your work, both photographic and creative cooking and tell all of my new vegan mates (and anyone else that will listen) to buy your books. They never regret it :) You have an inventive soul and are an amazing photographer Hannah, what’s not to love? :)

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