Culture vulture, my gut instinct
I love a bit of culture, me! By which I don’t mean that I can’t get enough of the opera. In fact, I’ve never been, and the last time I went to the ballet was on a school trip. I am partial to a bit of Tchaikovsky, but I’ve never read any James Joyce – get the picture?
The only cultures I care about are the ones that live in my fridge. Before you call Environmental Health, I clean my fridge regularly; I’m referring to the cultures that I have knowingly let into my life. To date, they total three: a yoghurt culture called kefir, a sourdough starter or levain for my bread and a vinegar mother. Most people wish they could turn water into wine – Jesus Christ was a dab hand at it – but I’m into turning wine into vinegar.
At the moment, though, I’m really into kefir which is a very special yoghurt culture. While yoghurt can be made from the lactic acid bacteria present in live yoghurt, kefir can only be made from kefir grains. Kefir grains are clusters of microorganisms held together by a matrix of polysaccharides. The grains include friendly bacteria and yeasts, as well as other microorganisms. In short, it’s really good for you and your gut. It’s best drunk neat as mixing with fruit or sugar weakens the probiotic qualities of the kefir.
Once you have the grains (better ask someone nicely and they might let you have some), making kefir is a ridiculously simple process: put the culture in the (preferably organic, full fat, I use goat’s but you can use cow’s) milk, leave it to ferment in a glass jar with the lid on and after about 24 – 48 hours it’s ready; strain it and you have kefir yoghurt. Then add some more (organic) milk to the kefir grains and the process starts all over again. The kefir grains are self-perpetuating and just keep growing and growing so you can distribute them to your friends and spread the love. In theory, kefir can never die, it is eternal and this really appeals to me. It certainly beats buying conveniently sized one-a-day pots of yoghurt ‘drink’ from the dreaded supermarket, just thinking of all that packaging makes me shudder.
Yoghurt is unstable for cooking but I love making yoghurt shakes. This week, I’m seriously into salty lassi which I make with yoghurt, salt & a little green chilli, ever since I had it in a southern Indian restaurant, I can’t get enough of it. You can also use it to make salad dressings and use the whey (if it separates which is no big deal) when making sourdough bread which is something I’m experimenting with this week.
Does this all sound ever so exciting? It is. And it’s a huge responsibility. My summer holiday, designed to inspire my next popup food event, is looming and when most people might be putting their cats into catteries, their dogs into kennels and asking the neighbours to water their gardens and veg patches, this is the least of my worries. I don’t have any cats, or a dog, or children but I do have my cultures. As I contemplate leaving them and start my packing, my gut instinct tells me that they’ll be fine…
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Tara is an award-winning chef and author, who started out in top restaurant kitchens in Bristol before setting up her own business in 2010. She is a Judge at The Taste of the West Awards, and in her private life, Tara is an avid cook, fermenter and eater and loves teaching others how to do the same! Tara published her first book, 10 Years of Food Fads, in 2020 to celebrate 10 years of business.