That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Mary-Thea Brosnan of Kerry Kefir, Castleisland, Co. Kerry.
“My passion for kefir began when I started making it for my own digestive issues back in 2017. After one week of making my own kefir, I noticed a huge improvement in my IBS symptoms.
I had to tell everybody about this magic fermented milk as I could not believe how these living organisms had such power to transform milk into something that completely transformed my health and my life.
I began researching the market and realised all the products on the supermarket shelves were made using powdered, lab-manufactured bacteria cultures.
They were a diluted version of what real kefir is supposed to be.
I knew there were more people out there like me, who have been suffering for years with their digestive health, and who would benefit from something so natural and traditional.
Optometry and physics
In September 2018, I decided to move home to Kerry to set up what would become Kerry Kefir.
I do not hail from a farm myself, but both my parents grew up on farms, which are run by their siblings, and my background is in science with two degrees in this field – one in optometry and one in physics.
Previously, I worked as an optometrist for over a decade after qualifying and left the industry to pursue physics which led me to a career in technology consulting with a multinational company called Accenture.
Then, I went back to optometry part-time while I was setting up the business and it is a full-time commitment since January 2020.
Currently, I am the founder and CEO of Kerry Kefir, as running a small business, I wear all the hats.
I am involved in the production of our kefir, delivery of our kefir, sales, marketing, accounts manager, bookkeeper, customer service, stock control, health and safety officer cleaner, and the list goes on.
I have one employee who is involved in the production of kefir and packing of our online orders.
Kerry Kefir is a premium natural milk probiotic made by using living organisms i.e., kefir grains.
We source our milk from our local co-op, Lee Strand, in Tralee. All their milk comes from third or fourth-generation farmers within a 15km radius of their processing plant in Tralee.
We handle all the production ourselves in our tiny little manufacturing kitchen out the back of my parent’s house.
Moreover, we have distributors that help us deliver our kefir directly to our customers all around Ireland and to various supermarkets and independent health stores. We have one product – natural, traditional milk kefir made using kefir grains.
We are the only milk kefir producer in Ireland with a dedicated small batch frumentary solely for making kefir the traditional way.
Kefir grains are symbiotic cultures of good bacteria and yeast, living in harmony together.
The grains ferment the milk by feeding off the lactose (sugar). Throughout the fermentation process, they impart their good bacteria and yeast into the milk.
My desire for learning has enabled me to produce this incredible product and grow my business.
I have innovated at every stage of growth by repurposing equipment from milking parlours and improving efficiencies at each phase of growth.
I have used my passion and knowledge of science and organisms to create a product that will benefit those that consume it.
We are passionate about gut health, natural produce, and all aspects of sustainability from social to environmental, everything we do, we do while valuing nature.
We believe in being genuine and want to help people to feel good every day.
Also, we aim to deliver our products in ethically sourced, sustainable packaging, that can be re-used where possible.
We are committed to providing our customers with the best quality products that taste and feel great: products that embody all of the health-promoting, time-tested benefits of traditional kefir and that are natural and kind to the environment.
So, what exactly is kefir?
Kefir is a fermented milk that originated in the Caucasus mountains between Georgia and Russia over 2000 years ago.
The milk is fermented by symbiotic cultures of beneficial bacteria and yeast called ‘kefir grains’ that exist naturally in nature.
The ‘grains’ were thought to be magic and were handed down from generation to generation and kept secret for centuries until a Russian official got wind of this magic milk and demanded that it be made available to everyone in Russia.
However, due to the difficulty of mass-producing traditional kefir on a large scale using the kefir grains they had to come up with another solution.
And so, the commercial manufacture of kefir began, where certain strains of bacteria were extracted and made into powdered form.
The resulting product was a diluted version of what traditional kefir was. To this day, kefir is still the most popular beverage in Russia.
And most of the kefir available on supermarket shelves are made in this commercial way.
That is why here at Kerry Kefir we are committed to producing only the most natural, traditional form of kefir, as it was originally intended.
During the fermentation process, the lactose is broken down by the bacteria.
The bacteria also partially digest the fats and proteins in the milk making the end product easily digestible.
What is more, the fermentation process makes the minerals and vitamins more bioavailable- meaning they are more easily absorbed in the body.”
Part two of this interview to follow…
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