While my lifestyle for the past year + (work, work, work) has not allowed for it much, I LOVE entertaining. Having friends over for quiet dinner parties with great conversation and wine, or for ragers that span from brunch til dawn and include sourdough waffle bars and lots of dancing is a pleasure that I sorely miss.
Whatever the event, I love to serve small bites to whet the appetite and, of course, they frequently include a wide variety of ferments. One of my favorite is a a take on the traditional mini-skewers of mozzarella balls, grape tomatoes and a basil leaf. Although I do enjoy making cultured mozzarella, there’s an easier cheese out there, and it requires no special cheese cultures.
I make little kefir cheese balls, (bocconcini-style) and I marinate them. It’s seriously easy and very customizable with herbs and spices.
The key to this recipe is to time the kefir draining so that the consistency is dry enough to hold together, but not so dry that it starts to crumble. This can take anywhere from 8 to 24 hours. The quickest way is to let the strained kefir sit on the counter in a covered container until the whey separates. Make a hole and pour off the whey before starting your strain. If this is difficult or too time-consuming at the start, just pour the whole thing into your cheesecloth-lined fine-mesh strainer and give it time to lose its liquid.
Kefir Bocconcini Recipe (Marinated Kefir Cheese Balls)
Yield: 10 to 15 balls
Feel free to mix up the seasonings on this one. Sometimes I throw in a hot pepper or some red pepper flakes. You could do a sweetish version with cinnamon sticks and ginger powder or go Greek with loads of oregano and lemon zest. The options are virtually endless. This savory version is a crowd-pleaser.
- Fine Mesh Strainer (the one you use to strain your kefir will work nicely)
- Enough cheesecloth to double and place in your strainer with extra hanging over the sides
- a bowl that your fine-mesh strainer fits across
- 1 pint jar
- 1 quart of finished milk kefir, grains removed
- 1 3-inch sprig fresh rosemary
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
- 2 teaspoons dried sage
- About 1 cup good quality olive oil
- Place fine mesh strainer securely over a bowl and line with cheesecloth. Make sure that the edges of the cheesecloth reach beyond the rim of the strainer. This will allow you to gather the corners of the cloth together and squeeze to remove excess liquid as your kefir cheese becomes more solid.
- When the consistency of the cheese is like a fluffy cream cheese and not yet cracking and crumbly, you’re ready to form the balls. Take 1 to 2 tablespoons of cheese into clean hands, and gently roll it between the palms of your hands to form a ball. If it falls apart, congratulations! You’ve made a crumbly feta-ish cheese. The downside is that you won’t be able to make marinated kefir balls from it. The upside is that you have delicious cheese crumbles.
- Gently place each finished ball in the pint jar, until all the cheese has been balled up. Add herbs. Pour olive oil over the cheese balls until it just covers them.
- Put the lid tightly on the jar and stick it in the fridge. Allow flavors to infuse for 5 to 10 days. If you taste at day 5 and you don’t get enough herb flavor, wait a couple more days. Leave at room temperature for an hour before serving. The oil can be reused for another batch of kefir cheese (add more herbs) and it makes a great salad dressing when mixed with vinegar.
Note: I prefer to let this marinate in the refrigerator, even though the oil will sometimes solidify a bit. The lower temperatures keep the kefir balls from further acidifying while they marinate, and the oil will liquefy when brought back to room temperature.