As I mentioned in the post on homemade kefir, for my first attempt I used kefir culture. The flavor of the kefir was a bit too acidic for our taste, and at that point, I had not yet learned all the ways in which to use kefir that I know now. I decided to see how the kefir would taste once the whey was removed, so I poured the kefir into a cloth-lined colander, then made a bundle and hung it up to drain for 24 hours (at room temperature).
I then chopped up finely a sample of herbs from my little garden: dill (aneto), mint (menta), chives (erba cipollina), parsley (prezzemolo), added a bit of salt and freshly milled pepper and mixed into the drained kefir, then molded it using my favorite heart-shaped mold.
I let the kefir cheese drain in the fridge for 3-4 days, then unmolded and tasted it.
The flavor was pleasantly tangy and the herbs gave it a nice nuance. It was particularly nice spread over a slightly sweet bread like my homemade challah.
After this success, I obtained kefir grains (grani di kefir), as recounted in the previous post. I made kefir using them and then made kefir cheese again, but this time instead of herbs, I added dukkah and cacao nibs (granella di fave di cacao). If you don't know what dukkah is, read on.
A few years ago, I attended an evening class on sourdough bread. It was not only the beginning of my sourdough baking adventure, but also of an acquaintance that turned into a friendship with Rhonda, who taught the class. For the bread tasting, Rhonda made some dukkah, something I had never seen before.
Dukkah (also spelled duqqa or dukka) comes to us from Egypt: it is a mix of toasted and ground spices and nuts.
The word is derived from the Arabic for "to pound" since the mixture of spices and nuts are pounded together after being dry roasted to a texture that is neither powdered nor paste-like. The actual composition of the spice mix can vary from family to family, vendor to vendor though there are common ingredients, such as sesame, coriander, cumin, salt and pepper. [source]
The recipe I use comes from 101 Cookbooks. I halve the quantities, because the full recipe makes quite a bit. And I like it coarsely ground (I use the food processor to do the grinding).
Back to the kefir, this time I drained it using a double layer of cheese netting instead of cloth. As I was about to gather some herbs to repeat the process followed before, my eyes encountered the jar where my freshly made dukkah was stored and I interpreted that as a sign. Next to it, there was the container where I keep cacao nibs (which I get from Dick Taylor Chocolate). Having successfully used cacao nibs with hard cheese, it was not difficult to decide to add those as well (after all, they are also toasted and ground, like the spices and nuts in dukkah).
I added a teaspoon each of dukkah and cacao nibs, relying on my sense of balance to make an educated guess. I wanted the flavor to be detectable, but not overpowering, a balance I had previously achieved with the herb mix. I also added a bit more of salt, mixed lightly and then filled the heart-shaped mold. Once again, I let the cheese sit in the fridge and drain further for 3-4 days and then tasted it: I was very happy with the result.
For my second batch of kefir cheese, I increased the amount of both dukkah and cacao nibs to 1 and 1/2 teaspoon each and let the cheese rest in the fridge 5 days. If you try, I recommend you start with the lower quantity and see how you like it. (I suspect that the combination would also work with labneh, but have not tried it.)
- 10 oz drained kefir (see Note below)
- a generous pinch of sea salt
- 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoon dukkah (see text above)
- 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoon cacao nibs (see text above)
Note: How much kefir? I use kefir made with non-fat milk and drain about 7 cups (1.65 l). I don't make that much kefir all at the same time. I usually make a pint (2 cups, 475 ml) or a quart (4 cups, 950 ml), depending on what my plans for using it are. (According to this site, it is actually better to let kefir ripen for a day or two before using it.) Pour kefir into a cloth-lined colander (I use a cotton napkin with a tight weave or a double layer of cheese netting). Gather the corners and make a bundle. Hang it over a bowl and let drain for 24 hours. (I don't have a photo of my set up, but this is quite similar: note the colander placed over the pot: if for whatever reason the bundle falls, it doesn't splash into the whey.) Reserve the whey and use it.
Sanitize a 4 1/4-inch heart-shaped mold (or other mold of choice) in boiling water. Sprinkle salt, dukkah and cacao nibs on the drained kefir and mix in. Place into mold and pack lightly.
Place a small grid at the bottom of a container and put the mold on it. Cover the container and refrigerate. Every day, discard the whey that collects at the bottom of the container.
After 3-5 days, unmold the cheese ahead of time and serve at room temperature. If the cheese is still very wet, put the leftover back into the mold and the draining container. If the cheese is not too wet, store it in cheese paper. Either way, put the cheese in the fridge. Ideally, you should bring to room temperature only the amount of cheese you will consume, so the rest can remain at constant temperature.
My favorite combination is kefir cheese spread over curry and pumpkin scones made with kefir instead of buttermilk and brown butter (details in an upcoming post).
Exciting update (May 26, 2012): my kefir cheese story is featured in today's post on the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company blog.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the formaggio fesco di kefir fatto in casa audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]