If you’re bored spreading the same ol’ schmear on your morning bagel, allow me to suggest kefir cream cheese. More akin to a mild chevre goat cheese, the tangy spread goes really well with crisp raw vegetables or a crunchy slice of toast. What is kefir? OK, I’ll back up a step. You’ve probably heard about kefir from that one friend who makes their own almond milk and/or lives in LA. You probably thought it was drinkable yogurt. Close—kefir is technically a fermented milk drink made from cow, goat, or sheep’s milk and kefir “grains,” a bacteria-yeast culture. When whey (the cloudy liquid you’ve likely dumped off the surface of yogurt) drains from kefir over several hours, the mixture takes a firmer form similar to that of a soft cheese or cream cheese.
Set up a fine mesh sieve lined with a few coffee filters or three layers of cheesecloth over a medium bowl. Pour kefir into the sieve and place everything in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can pour the kefir into a bag made from several layers of cheesecloth or a kitchen towel tied together. Tie the kefir-filled bag onto a shelf in your refrigerator so it hangs over a bowl. The gravity of a hanging bag allows the whey to drip from the kefir more quickly. However, if your fridge doesn’t have rungs, I recommend going with the sieve method—the cream cheese may be a bit looser, but won’t affect the flavor.
Let the whey drip from the kefir for 15-24 hours, depending on how soft you’d like the kefir cheese to be. Once the cream cheese reaches your desired consistency, scoop it into a clean jar with a lid. Save the whey in another lidded jar and use it in place of milk in your next batch of pancakes.
I think the tanginess of plain kefir cream cheese is exactly what a classic bagel and lox sandwich was missing, but there’s definitely room to play here. If you’d like to flavor the kefir cream cheese, treat it as you would regular cream cheese. Go with classic bagel shop flavors (strawberry, scallion, sun-dried tomato, vegetable) or get more creative with honey, citrus zest, caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, or freshly chopped herbs.
Keep in mind that kefir cream cheese also makes a killer base for cream cheese frosting. The slightly sour tang complements sweet things too well for you not to give it a try.