Hi - I've just started making (or trying to make!) my own Kefir. I purchased some live grains online which were delivered in milk (so not dehydrated grains). I followed their instructions to get them "re-homed" and am on my 5th jar of Kefir. THe problem I have is that I can't get it to the consistency that I want and have seen on line (e.g. here: [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sp7wAucxemQ)[/youtube]
In mine, after about 12 hours the grains have floated to the top and I start to see a small amount of whey at the surface (about 1/2 cm). If I stir the Kefir the rest seems very similar in consistency to the milk I first poured in. I know the grains are working as I accidentally left one batch to over ferment - it was showing about 1cm of whey at the surface but the whole batch was still very thin. After about 2 hours of watching TV I checked it again and it had completely separated.
Sounds like you are off to a good start! I'm not an expert but have found that both time and temperature are variables that complicate hitting the consistency I am seeking.
Observation is key - watch and taste as you go. If it is cooler in your home, your culture will need more time to reach your desired endpoint than if it is warm, and day to day variations made this very confusing at first. I'm still working at it but think that was an important insight.
I found that the same grains produce different thicknesses of kefir with different "brands" of milk. The raw milk dairy I use rarely gets gel like but the local regular dairy's pasturized milk gels really well. The supermarket ultrapasturized organic milk is somewhere in between. Try changing your milk "brand".
Are you getting pine forest/river patterns of solids on the sides of your glass when you drink your kefir, then it's be kefired no matter the thickness.
My kefir grains tend to take a vacation once a year typically mid October, they just don't produce any kefir, it's probably the related to the season change. It usually takes a week for everything to get back to normal. I thought I killed them the first couple of years.
Be sure you're not using ultra-pastuerized (aka ultra-heat treated UHT) milk. And the temp makes huge difference in both the texture and the time it takes to ferment. We've gotten used to the kefir changing in texture slowly over the different seasons and just always ferment for 24 hours as it's really convenient to use and restock at the same time every day.
Observation. If you like the summer rapidly fermented stuff, which tends to be creamy and thick with my culture, insulate the jar you are making it in during the winter. The microbes are generating some heat, and losing that to the air. You can limit the airflow quite a bit (I use a plastic top with some holes in it) and still lose the CO2 from the fermentation but retain some heat. I also prefer the more uniform texture of the summer kefir, but some people like the more acidic longer fermented winter culture.
Honestly I just drink a ton of it and so I want it to brew up pretty fast.
One last thing about cultures, I am a fan of getting a local one. Almost always there is someone on craiglist selling for maybe $10, and that culture is ready to rock and likely to be more inoculated with local airborne cultures.
Took a month to get a good SCOBY for kombucha from a kit, and again, there is almost always someone who will sell you one that is already active.
I've given away several cultures, and when I am travelling for a longer time I just eat the grains and restart from someone I have given one to when I am back!
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Yeah the culture gets more active as you feed it consistently, it may not be active enough yet to get a good fermentation with a large volume of milk. I'd make sure to be using whole milk and start off with a smaller jar, and move up to a bigger jar after the curds grow.
Also, a lot of commercial varieties have artificial thickeners. Is it possible you're accustomed to the carageenan mouth feel or something?
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