Basic Milk Kefir
Kefir (pronounced KEE-fur or Kay-FEAR, depending on your preference) is a drinking yogurt that is bursting with probiotics. In the past few years, it has become a grocery store staple here in the US, but it is ridiculously easy to make yourself. Besides the obvious cost benefits, there are the added benefits of DIYing, such as choosing the quality of milk you want, knowing your bacteria are the real, live deal and making whatever “flavors” suit your palette.
There are a couple of tiny hurdles to overcome before you make kefir. First, you need kefir grains. If you don’t know a hippie or a fermenter, you can order them online. I got some from Cultures for Health to test them, and after rehydrating, they worked just like the grains I got from a fellow fermenter. GEM Cultures sells fresh grains that also work like a charm, without the pesky need to rehydrate them. I like the idea of getting them from a person, because it creates community and as any kefir maker knows, you will eventually have way too many grains to know what to do with, even after you make a batch dedicated to kefir sour cream and try some in non-dairy milks and unpasteurized juices. So getting them from a friend prevents waste, too! If you live in Philly, I am HAPPY to provide you with extra grains. Just shoot me an e-mail or post it in the comments.
Second, kefir grains and metal don’t mix! Just like with your kombucha SCOBY, you can actually harm your grains by putting them into contact with metal. This means you need a non-metallic fine mesh strainer (mine cost $1.99 at my local kitchen supply store) and something to stir your grains with. I usually use the rounded end of a chopstick. If you kefir or store your kefir in a canning jar, it might be a good idea to get plastic caps to minimize the risk that your grains will touch metal, and the risk of corrosion. You certainly do not need to use a canning jar to make your kefir. I’ve used everything from half-gallon glass milk jugs to pyrex bowls. The only important thing is that you are able to easily secure a cover to your container.
Third, the most important variable here is temperature. Your grains will kefir best at room temperature. Below say, 68 degrees Fahrenheit, fermentation will get very slow which isn’t super for milk kefir. Above 78ish, it will kefir too fast which can throw the balance of your bacteria and yeast out of whack. Do not leave your grains in for longer than 24 hours. If your milk hasn’t kefired by then, strain out the grains and discard the milk. Try again. I have literally never once had this happen, but in colder months, I’ve had to wait a full 24 hours for a batch to complete.
“Recipe” (quotes intentional):
1 Tablespoon of kefir grains
1 pint to 1/2 gallon of your preferred milk
- Put kefir grains in container
- Attach covering
- Move container to a room temperature spot out of direct sunlight
- Gently agitate when you remember to
- When milk is thickened (anywhere from 12-24 hours later) and smells a bit yeasty, strain the grains out of the kefir, put them into fresh milk, and stick the grain-free kefir into the fridge
- Begin process again*
*If you have made enough kefir, you can keep your grains stored in milk in the fridge for up to a week before starting your next batch. Even at the low fridge temperature, the milk will kefir, albeit very slowly, so be sure to start your post fridge batch at a time when you will be able to watch closely.