Having just discovered the joys of fermentation before departing on on six week belated honeymoon to Europe, I was not prepared to abandon the Kefir grains I had recently acquired. Even though I had built a little safety net of fermentidos (Britt and Matt, Kristen, Brigita, Chris, Ma and Pa Graham), I wanted to chance overseas travel with a live culture in tow.
Having been prescribed a week long course of amoxicillin and clavulanic acid and knowing the body of emerging research of permanent microbial flora change with a single course of antibiotics, I wanted to keep inoculating myself with as much probiotics during this travel period.
I hatched a plan to take my Kefir with me overseas and a little microbial stowaway. We had found a relatively sturdy yoghurt container in order to safely transit the kefir – this would be perfect. The grains themselves can endure 36 hours and longer of travel, and even in little milk (so long as they are cool).
I’d prepared the bottle and reduced the amount of grains and put them in a fresh batch of milk ready for their journey. Ma Graham cautioned against taking dairy into the UK – we were passing through to Iceland – and I had planned to declare it at Heathrow.
I’d packed the Cusineart blender vessels with the Aero press filter and one lid. We planned to be fermenting in one container and then wash the other. Simple. I was determined.
I planned the journey for our little grains with the precision of a Swiss watch. Eight hours to Hong Kong, 4 hour stop over of which the baggage (and the stash of Kefir grains) transferred for us, then 13 hours to London. Once there we would refresh the little grains and sleep over night before catching the next afternoon’s flight to Iceland. Perfect. The transit time would only be twenty five hours in total (because of the refresh at London), in a small 300mL container with ample milk. A cinch I’d smugly thought.
We got to the airport bound for Hong Kong from Brisbane at 12am flight. Then a slight snag happened – our plane was delayed by 4 hours. No biggie that’ll just add another hours hours to the journey for my little cauliflower bits to a total of 28 hours. We were advised the connecting flight would be leaving in 30mins at the Hong Kong end but the plane would wait for us. No worries.
So dreary, we boarded the flight at 4am Brisbane plane with sights set on Hong Kong.
Then disaster struck when Mrs B got food positioning on the flight to Hong Kong which is a tale unto itself.
Suffice to say the extra time added to the journey amounted to a bleary-eyed 44 hours for the Kefir and 54 hours for us.
I was not expecting anything other than carnage in my bag when I arrived at Heathrow. As soon as we picked up our baggage we went straight to buy a pint of milk (yes, they sell milk in the cutest pint milk containers), and slowly by slowly added milk to the kefir grains, mixed it with a spoon drank it down, and repeated the process until most of the highly sour milk taste had gone. This gave the kefir a nice refresh with British milk.
We went through customs and advised the officer we were carrying 300mL of yoghurt drink. He waved us through advising we aren’t allowed dairy but if we consume in straight away it would be fine. And that’s what we did.
I had packed the Kefir into the Cuisineart vessel and wrapped it in a towel. While the container leaked a bit, it was not as bad as I’d thought. The leaking actually created extra space for the much needed milk to be added.
At 44 hours the Kefir didn’t suffer at all. The next leg of the journey was a piss-easy 3 hour flight to Iceland and no customs, so the hardest part over.
After Mrs B’s food poisoning and my antibiotics course I’m even more grateful for chancing the international Kefir highway. It can be done with relative ease and I don’t think many people would need to travel longer than 44 hours.
Once we’d touched down in Iceland it is pretty much the same responsibility of feeding, drinking and and repeating the process with the kefir, and possibly sharing the grains as you go. It’s not impossible to do on holiday anymore than buying milk is.
The most remarkable thing about traveling in a cold climate with kefir is you don’t need to keep it refrigerated. In fact keeping it warm enough is a problem.
In Iceland we’ve kept the milk out outside, and kefir in the warm car. At night we drink the kefir and repeat (but with Icelandic cow milk). We’ve been doing this now for a week and it’s time again to gift some grains.
While in Iceland we stayed in Vogafjós Guesthouse which is a functioning dairy farm. The family has build a restaurant next to the milking shed to experience more paddock to plate, and people can watch the the inner workings of a dairy.
On their breakfast buffet sat a jug of fresh (warm) raw milk for people to try. The lightbulb moment occurred to me when we needed to get rid of some Kefir grains.
I offered some grains to the staff (either that or they would have ended up in the bin) and they were interested. I also topped up our grains with the raw milk – and hopefully inoculated it with a new strain(s) of bacteria.
The staff were curious and wanted to know more about it, which is deeply rewarding for us to share.
So the journey continues! This remarkable little grain who was gifted to me by Ma Schmidtke and helped our biomes has made it to Iceland!
In seven days we’ll be in Germany, hopefully someone wants it there.
There are several advantages to traveling with Kefir.
1. You have a very cheap source of whole pre-digested probiotic whole food (which in Iceland where food is astronomically expensive is a major bonus).
2. You don’t need to keep it refrigerated – European room temperature is fine
3. You can gift off your culture to anyone interested, in a form of weird international barter
We’ll continue to take our Kefir with our travels around Europe, hopefully picking up diversity of microbes as we go.