Fabulous Pets in Our Kitchen

Finally we have some more livestock here on the Farmlet. These are not cows or goats, but colonies of bacteria and yeasts. They live in the kitchen, and I like to call them our “pets.”

We now have starters for kombucha, water kefir, kefir, and Caspian Sea yogurt. My sister and her partner were kind enough to transport them here for us when they traveled up from Wellington. They must have transported the pets with great care, as all arrived in good shape. They have settled well into their new home!

Here’s an introduction to the new pets, along with links for those who are curious:

For those who don’t know about kombucha, it’s a colony of yeasts and bacteria that form a slimy pancake-like mass known as a “scoby,” a “mother,” or a “mushroom.” The scoby will transform a container of sweet tea into a delicious sweet and sour beverage, which reputedly has great health-giving properties. The colony produces a new scoby with each batch, so you soon get plenty to give away to friends. My Dad took one look at the scoby and declared he’d be a bit concerned if he found one of those in his fridge. It certainly looks pretty dodgy!


Water kefir are clear crystal-like grains that will culture sugar water (with other ingredients added) into a fizzy, refreshing beverage. We’ve been adding lemon, raisins, and various herbs from the garden.

Water kefir

Kefir (milk kefir) are opaque grains that will culture milk at room temperature. We have been using the resulting kefir to make smoothies. I’m also keen to try making some kefir cheese.

And what about Caspian Sea Yogurt? It is a special yogurt that cultures at room temperature. Instead of heating the milk and keeping it at above room temperature to culture, this culture can just be stirred into raw milk at room temperature and left to thicken. It takes about 8-12 hours. The resulting yogurt is mild and creamy, with a stringier texture than regular yogurt. It’s really easy to make, and Kevin and I find it extremely tasty. Until a couple of weeks ago, I never knew there was such an easy way to make raw milk yogurt.

We are having a lot of fun playing around with all these new livestock. If any readers live nearby and would like to have some starters, please let us know. We’d be delighted to share.

49 Responses to “Fabulous Pets in Our Kitchen”

  1. Doug Mitchell says:

    Excellent timing on this post, Rebecca. We’ve been talking about acquiring a SCOBY ourselves for quite some time now, and when I mentioned your new housepets to Anita, she said out loud: “The Hollanders (close neighbors) have been making Kombucha for years now — I’ll ask Irmgard today!”

    Which she did, and we’re likely only a few days behind y’all in the brewing process. Our first go is also a bit of a science experiment, as we split the “Pils” in half and started a “standard” batch with refined sugar (which we normally avoid like the plague) and a batch with local raw honey (which is our usual sweetening agent).

    Opinions on using honey are split. But then again, when aren’t opinions on nearly everything widely variable. After digging around on Günther Frank’s site, we felt pretty comfortable about using honey, but decided to side-by-side and see how the process and results differ. By the way, for anyone else considering Kombucha, Herr Frank’s site is THE resource on the web.

    I cast about for other resources after following the link to his site in this post, and what’s out there are primarily “value-added” commercial sites selling Kombucha “kits” and the like. Frank does have a book he makes available, but it’s soft-sell — he doesn’t pull a slaze offer partial information forcing you into a book purchase. On the contrary, it’s ALL there, with links to scads more.

    Meanwhile, the Caspian Sea yogurt also caught our attention, as we do not see pasteurization as being in any way beneficial (quite the opposite, if you desire living foods).

    I don’t know if you’re aware, but raw milk with the cream still present will sour on it’s own quite nicely, producing a lovely combination of sour cream (skimmed for cooking uses), whey (strained away, the chickens LOVE it) and what’s known in the local dialect as “Dicke Milch” (thick milk).

    Simply set the fresh milk aside in an appropriate vessel, keeping it covered but giving it breathing space (we use a stainless pot and keep the lid ajar), then leave it be for a day or two. In warmer climes (summer here), a day is usually long enough. Ours typically sours for two days, and in the peak winter months a bit longer (we’re at 50ºN).

    The result is somewhere between yogurt and a creamy cottage cheese, and becomes our near-daily serving of Budwig creme when mixed a generous spoon of raw honey, cold-pressed linseed oil and whatever fruit floats our boat that day, which is usually mixed berries from our own house stock.

    Still, the Caspian Sea yogurt sounds like another winner, which we’ll probably attempt before too long.

  2. Rebecca says:

    Hi Doug,
    Good luck with the kombucha. We’ll be interested to hear how the kombucha works out with honey, as that’s our preferred sweetener too. The rather limited information I received indicated that white sugar was the only option. I prefer not to use refined sugar at all, so would be very happy if there is a better alternative.
    We’d like to try making the “Dicke Milch” you mention. It sounds delicious — especially with the honey! I think Anita may have mentioned that delicacy in a comment a while back, also. We are greedily skimming all the cream off our milk at the moment to save for an upcoming butter project. Once our milk supply isn’t so limited, I guess we won’t have to pick and choose between one cream project and another, like this!
    The Caspian Sea yogurt is a delicious way to enjoy raw milk. I hope you’ll have a chance to try making it some time.
    We don’t have any plans for the colostrum, at this stage. We’ve never used it before, so will be on the lookout for ideas over the next few months. Any suggestions are very welcome!

  3. Doug Mitchell says:


    Just a quick follow-up on the Kombucha/honey question:

    According to Günther Frank (kombu.de), the antiseptic and anti-bacterial properties of honey (especially the raw variety) will damage the SCOBY.

    Last night, after about six days, we sampled the raw honey batch. Honestly, it tasted marvelous. The parent hadn’t sunk in the honey batch, so it and the thin membrane of new material were split into two fresh batches of green tea.

    It didn’t appear “unhealthy” when removed, but based on what we’ve read and what we already know about the raw honey, we decided to follow Herr Frank’s best advice and switched to granular, unrefined Rapadura as a feed stock.

    We’re hoping to have a modest SCOBY colony fermenting away on the bottom shelf before the close of April, and we’re already contemplating how many liters of production we’ll need per week/month and all that jazz.

  4. Rebecca says:

    Thanks for the info about the kombucha/honey. I’d wondered about using Rapadura, too, so perhaps we will give that a try.
    We hope you are enjoying your kombucha!

  5. Cathy says:

    Hi, Please could you advise me where I can buy a Kombucha mushroom. I think that the tea made with it will benefit my family.I live in the Bay of Plenty. I look forward to your reply.

  6. Rebecca says:

    Hi Cathy,
    I have some spare kombucha mushrooms,if you are interested in getting one. I can also check out whether there is a source closer to you. If you want to discuss this further, please email me at rebecca@farmlet.co.nz

  7. Cathy says:

    Hi Rebecca,
    this is great news, I shall e-mail you tonight,
    thanks a lot.
    Regards Cathy.

  8. Mick says:

    Hi there,

    I am also hoping to buy some kombucha culture and wonder if you could help. I have seen a couple of worrying side affects elsewhere on the net and suspect that they may be due to no making it properly or poor hygine perhaps. Do you have some basic instruction like does and donts?

    I am from Blenheim and wonder if you know anyone local?

  9. Rebecca says:

    Hi Mick,
    Off the top of my head, I don’t know of anyone in the Blenheim area with a kombucha culture, but will check back through the list of people I’ve sent it to just in case. Please email me about this, (rebecca at farmlet dot co dot nz)since I don’t want to post anyone’s contact details on this website.
    Like you, I’ve read some scary stuff about kombucha on the internet. And like you, I suspect poor hygiene or problems with the culture. Bottom line: if it looks rotten or smells funky, don’t drink it! If you like, I have some instruction sheets that I could email you about how best to care for the culture.
    Also, as far as side-effects, kombucha is strong stuff. This is good. . . but the best advice is to start with a very small serving, and gradually work up to a larger amount as you are sure your body is accustomed to it. That’s because some people do suffer detox effects when they first start drinking it.
    I look forward to hearing from you again.

  10. Glenys says:

    Hello- I have recently returned from Australia, where I was introduced to Kombucha tea. I understand you now have starters for it here. Can you give me any more info for it please- how much will it cost, and so on. Thanks, Glenys

  11. Rebecca says:

    Hi Glenys,
    For information about getting a starter, please email me at: rebecca at farmlet dot co dot nz. If you tell me where you live, I might even be able to suggest a source that is more local to you.
    I look forward to hearing from you.

  12. Petra says:

    Hi Rebecca
    I would also like a Kombucha starter, we were recently in Seattle and were introduced to Kombucha, which I really enjoyed. As it is also reputed to clear up psoriasis which I have suffered from most of my life, I am definitely going to give this a go.
    I will e-mail you @ the address given on your blog.

  13. james says:

    i am looking for a kombucha mushroom. i.v used it befor and know that it works. i live in auckland. can any one help me. thank you.

  14. Rebecca says:

    Hi James,
    I think I might have contact details for someone in the Auckland area who has kombucha. I’ll have to check if I still have the email! If you are interested, please contact me via email — at the address I give in the comments above.

  15. Christine Kennedy says:

    I am so glad I found I finally found someone who is using raw milk to make caspian sea yogurt. I just ordered this culture off of a site that says to use only pastuerized milk because of the disease-causing bacteria that could be present in unsanitary milk. However, I know the milk I am getting is perfectly safe. I was intrigued by this product b/c you can culture it at room temp., with no heating or incubating the milk. Can I ask you where did you get your original culture, and what is the resulting product like when using raw milk?


  16. Rebecca says:

    Hi Christine,
    We first got the Caspian Sea yoghurt culture in March, from a woman in Wellington. We’ve been using it ever since, with whatever milk we’ve had. Most of the time, this has been raw unpastuerised milk. When that hasn’t been available, we’ve used regular pastuerised homogenized milk from the supermarket. The yoghurt has always come out fine, regardless of which kind of milk we used.

    The yoghurt is thicker or thinner at times — I think depending on exactly how long we keep it culturing at room temperature, or maybe depending on whether I remember to stir it partway through culturing. It has a more stringy and viscous consistency than regular yoghurt, and has a mild flavour. I understand that these are typical characteristics of Caspian Sea yoghurt.
    Like you, we were really pleased to find a way to make yoghurt easily at room temperature — both for the sake of convenience, and for the sake of maintaining all the goodness of the raw un-heated milk.
    Good luck with your yoghurt.

  17. Hello
    What a lovely site you have. I am looking for some Kombucha mother. I would love to be able to share this with students in my cooking school.
    Do you have any available or know where I might get some from? Warmest wishes

  18. Rebecca says:

    Hi Deborah,
    I’m sure I can either help you get in touch with someone in your local area who has some kombucha to share, or send you some myself. Please contact me about this via email: rebecca at farmlet dot co dot nz.
    We’re glad you enjoy the site.

  19. Tony says:

    I’m in Auckland and would like to make or buy kombucha tea. Many thanks

  20. Pam says:

    Hi – I’ve been trying to track down a culture which I used years ago. It looked like yellowish cottage cheese, and sounds pretty much like the kefir described on your site.
    I’m in the Wellington area so is this near anyone who may have some of the live kefir?

  21. Joan says:

    HI I am in Taranaki and would also like to know where I can find culture and more info and instructions. I am new to all of this. THanks.

  22. Luciana says:


    I live in Auckland, My nana gave me a scoby some years ago, when i moved overseas i left to my family to look after, when i got back obivously they didnt look after it. I would be interested in obtaining a scoby, are you guys selling them or can you recommend where i can get one from in Auckland, would really like to start drinking it again.

  23. Rebecca says:

    Hi Luciana,
    If you email me (rebecca at farmlet dot co dot nz), I can send you the contact details of someone in the Auckland area who can probably hook you up with a scoby.
    All the best,

  24. Chrissy says:

    Congrats to you both on your new baby. Have heard/tried catching mice/rats successfully using peanut butter. Just a blob on the trap will bring them to it in no time. All the best, love the website 🙂

  25. deborah says:


    Alas, I’ve just lost my kombucha fungus due to mould – probably because I cut it with unsterilised sissors. I live in Auckland and wonder if you can put me in touch with someone who has a scoby to sell. Thanks

  26. Rebecca says:

    Hi Deborah,
    Yes, I can put you in touch with some people in Auckland, but I don’t want to put their contact details here, of course. Please email me (rebecca at farmlet dot co dot nz)about this, and I’ll reply to you with the contacts.

  27. Craig Storey says:

    So glad to find you have a Kombucha.

    How do we go about collecting/buying/acquiring a mother?

    We had one several years ago, and we just loved it, but circumstances interferred and we had to give it away.

    Please contact us, many thanks

    Craig Storey / Sandra Paul

  28. Robbyn says:

    This post you wrote has changed our lives! We didn’t know about Caspian Sea yogurt, and had never tried making our own kefir. But after reading your fermentation posts, it sounded like something we could do, and my husband was all aboard. What started as an experiment turned into something much better…my husband LOVES the CSY so much he is eating it every day…something in him craves it. I prefer the kefir, and we’ve had success in making both from the links you posted. I just have to say thank you thank you! Seeing that you guys utilize these foods on a daily basis really encouraged us to try them…we might have gone much longer before ever really getting enthused about it. We love your blog and look forward to new posts!

  29. Rebecca says:

    Hi Robbyn,
    It’s really heartening to get such positive feedback about the blog. Thanks for taking the time to comment!
    I’m glad the CSY and kefir have been such a success for you and your husband.

  30. Sally says:

    I have just tried making viili for the first time. Is Caspian Sea Yoghurt quite different? I prefer to use raw milk.
    I have also been using kefir for several years though my grains are quite sleepy at present.

    PS. Great site!

  31. Rebecca says:

    Hi Sally,
    I believe Caspian Sea Yoghurt is another name for viili.
    Good luck with all your cultures, and thanks for your kind comment about the site.

  32. Glynne Hamid says:

    Hi Rebecca, We live in the Cambridge and are very interested in getting a supply or brewing our own Kombucha tea. Do you have any contacts in the Waikato, where we could find a scoby to get us going.
    Just found your site, it’s great.
    Thanks Glynne

  33. Rebecca says:

    Hi Glynne,
    I just emailed you about the kombucha. Hope you got my message.

  34. emma says:

    Hi, you have a lovely website!
    Do you know where I can source piima cultures and kefir grains? I am in Wanganui. I have CSY starter and am using raw milk and it’s amazing! Have not been able to digest ANY dairy for 5 plus years and this wonderful raw milk has been such a savior to me (that and soaking the very few grains I have once in a while, plus coconut oil and generally eating more fat!!) I hope you will be able to help.
    many thanks emma mokha

  35. Beryl says:

    A really interesting site – thanks. Like many of you, I’m now ‘into’ kombucha and have no idea where to get a starter. I live in the Otago area. Could anyone help, please?

  36. Shaun says:

    Hello, we have recently arrived from the UK and have had to leave all of our prized possessions behind (Kombucha babies, aromatherapy oils and pets etc). Hope you can help me to locate a Kombucha baby, or mother close to Tauwhare / Hamilton as the family are missing the therapeutic effects of brewing our own tea.

    Many thanks Shaun.

  37. Rita says:


    I have some pets at home too, and would like to know how yours get along with each other.

    My Caspian Sea Yogurt (matsoni) became very aggressive, declared a war on kefir, and won it over. I don’t know how it happened; it’s probably my fault of keeping them relatively close to each other. Now, my kefir produces matsoni. At least, it looks like matsoni, taste like matsoni, so I call it matsoni (or Caspian Sea yogurt, if you wish). There are still some kefir grains at the bottom, but they don’t look happy.

    It’s not that I cry about my “spilled” kefir. If it’s so weak that could not withstand a little invasion of another culture, I’d rather let it go. However, I am curious if someone else experienced something similar with their probiotic pets.

    I have kombucha for several years now, it’s my oldest and favorite pet. I wonder if I have to put an iron curtain around it, in order to stop the matsoni invasion.

  38. Rebecca says:

    Hi Rita,

    I’ve had the pets for over a year now, and haven’t had any trouble with them invading each other, even though they are kept in pretty close quarters. I agree with you that the Caspian Sea Yoghurt is somewhat aggressive. I’ve not managed to make quark, because whenever I leave milk at room temperature it just turns to yoghurt! No problems with the kefir, though. I think kefir culture is generally pretty robust, so it may have been that something was already going wrong with yours when the CSY invaded.
    I can’t imagine that the yoghurt culture would invade the kombucha, since the kompucha isn’t kept in milk. CSY culture needs milk to grow in.
    Good luck with your pets.

  39. Sophie says:

    Hi Rebecca,

    I had Kefir pets for almost a year, until a friends dog decided they would be better off inside him on saturday! oh it was depressing!!

    anyway now Im am keen to try other cultures and was wondering if you knew anyone in sydney, australia who has CSY or piima or viili cultures?

    Thanks so much,


  40. Rebecca says:

    Hi Sophie,
    Sorry I don’t know anyone in Sydney who has cultures to share. Have you tried the local chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation? Sometimes they can help with questions like this.
    Good luck with your search.

  41. max says:

    any idea where to get a bit of kombucha in Wngt?

  42. Rebecca says:

    Hi Max,
    I’ve replied to you via email.

  43. Marc says:

    I’ve brewed Kombucha quite a bit over the years, but having trouble reviving my mushroom. Do you know any contacts in Christchurch I might get a ‘baby’ from? I understand if you’re getting overloaded with requests…

  44. Wendy says:

    I have just become interested in kefir and am trying to source some grains to get me started. I am in Christchurch and would be happy to collect.

  45. Anonymous says:

    hi do you know where i am able to buy ready to drink (made)kombucha in auckland. I am after some for my mother inlaw who brews her own but is on holiday in new zealand. she usually drinks it daily for medicinal purposes

  46. Rebecca says:

    Sorry I can’t help you with a source of ready-made kombucha in Auckland. Good luck with your search.

  47. Vania says:

    Hi there,
    I’m a single mum with four children and we all suffer from sinus issues. I have been reading alot about the benefits of all your pets and as I do make my own yoghurt and herbal teas etc am keen to take this further.
    Would you know where I can access the different grains and pets and also Raw milk in Wellington?

  48. Mary says:

    Am just about to receive my first starter of Caspian Sea Yoghurt and am excited about adding that to my list of natural foodstuffs.

    I have a continuous brewing system of Kombucha (in a ceramic water filter complete with tap bought at Mitre 10 Mega) and also water kefir grains and am more than happy to share excess scoby’s and grains with anyone in the BoP area.

    Reading this blog has given other ideas too so am off to convert some raw milk (currently we have 2 suppliers in Tauranga) to Dicke Milch right now!


  49. Jeannie says:

    Hi, I have been successfully making milk Kefir for about a year and have had huge benefits from this. I also brew water kefir, and this has the same digestive benefits. I have just been given a kombucha mother culture, and will start this once I have gathered the necessary equipment. I am wanting to try continuous brewing, anyone got some tips on the best vessel for this?

    I am also wanting to share cultures. My milk kefir grows very well, so I regularly have some to give away. I haven’t managed to get my water kefir to grow (it still brews though). Hopefully my kombucha will be successful enough to share sometime soon as well. I am wanting to try Caspian Sea Yoghurt for my children (they don’t like the milk Kefir), so does anyone have a culture to share in the BOP area?