This post is part of series on different ways to use, transform and preserve fresh milk. Main article here.
There’s no comparison between store bought and homemade kefir. Fresh kefir tastes rich, tangy without masking all other dairy flavors, and is slightly effervescent. Similar to how a kombucha “mother” turns sweet tea into kombucha, a specific kefir scoby (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) referred to as kefir grains, turns fresh milk into kefir. Kefir boasts a wide spectrum and concentration of probiotic bacteria. Packed with calcium and B vitamins, numerous health benefits are associated with regular consumption. Its low lactose content makes it a choice drink for those with dairy sensitivity.
I was reluctant for years to maintain kefir grains, assuming they’d require too much time and milk to maintain. My schedule as a new mother requires that I choose only the hardiest of cultures, ones that will survive a bit of neglect.
Activating my kefir grains took about a week and a half. It did require a significant amount of milk and attention. I started with one cup of milk and gradually increased production, by half a cup each day, to a full quart of milk every 24 hrs. Later on, I’ll talk about how I slowed my production.
Here, I’m discussing making kefir using kefir grains, not the single use powdered culture. There’s no one recipe for making kefir this way. You’re maintaining a living organism. Your grains will behave a little differently than mine due to kitchen temperature, quality of milk and feeding schedule.
Always use a clean glass container. I use mason jars with a tight fitting lid. You can opt to let your ferment breath with a fermentation lid or tying some fabric over the top. I don’t practice this because I ferment many different cultures at once in a small space and don’t want cross contamination. As long as you release air from your container once a day, you won’t have problems.
First, find some kefir grains either online or from a friend. Invest in a small, plastic or stainless steel mesh strainer (pictured below) for straining grains from batch to batch. If you’re buying dried grains, you’ll have to activate them.
Once your grains are activated, making a quart or more of kefir in 24 hrs, upkeep is simple. Strain finished kefir through your mesh, put saved grains into a quart or more of fresh milk, ferment for 24 hrs, repeat. Careful not to let your grains get too hungry. When the milk whey and curd start to separate, its time to feed your grains ASAP.
Finished kefir will stay good in the fridge for six months or longer. Kefir thickens over time, shake the jar before use.
Making Less Kefir
We consume about half a gallon of kefir a week in our home. If I made a quart every day, I’d have way too much on my hands. Additionally, kefir grains multiply. As time goes on, pay attention to the quantity of your grains. More kefir grains means more frequent feedings to keep them happy. Eventually, you’ll want to divide your grains. Give the extra to a friend or dry them out to have as a back up.
There are a few ways to slow down production (more in depth discussion can be found here). After a few weeks of activation and daily feedings, I was able to slow my production to once every three or four days by leaving my grains in a quart of fresh milk in the fridge. When I want more kefir, I simply bring the quart to room temperature and let ferment on the counter for a day. Half a gallon of kefir a week is plenty for our needs right now. This will change as my 9-month-old gets bigger. She enjoys a couple ounces of kefir daily.
Drink it! Try adding maple syrup, blending with fruit, or making the Persian doogh.
I often use buttermilk and kefir interchangeably in recipes.
Use it in place of milk or yogurt in baked goods.