Here are some simple steps to get delicious homemade Kefir.
What you need:
- Whole milk, I prefer organic *
- Kefir grains
- A glass container, I use what I have around the house, in this case a juice carafe, but canning jars work very well
- A plastic strainer Metal is not recommended as it can harm the grains, I hear that stainless steel might be ok, but I stayed on the safe side)
- A Wooden or plastic spoon (kefir grains do NOT like metal!)
- Cheese cloth, a small towel or a coffee filter
- Rubber bands
- Glass container with a plastic lid for kefir storage
*you can use cow’s milk, goat’s milk or any other animal milk, but I recommend staying with one for a while to avoid acclimatization issues. You can also use coconut milk, soy milk, almond milk, but you need to put your grains in regular milk ever so often, they do need animal milk to be happy. I would suggest using some of your extra grains and just experiment.
When you receive your grains in the mail, they have been through a lot of stress. Not only did the travel and the resulting temperature changes and lack of food distress them, they now also have to adjust to a new environment (temperature) and food (brand of milk), this can take up to two weeks. In most cases it takes less time. For me it took two weeks and I was ready to give up, don’t. I am glad I didn’t, because once these hardy little fellas started to feel at home, they made the most delicious Kefir.
So here are the basic instructions:
- When they arrive, take them out of the shipping container immediately and place them in a glass jar, that has been cleaned well (you do not want any other bacteria or yeast growing with you kefir grains), also make sure there is no soap residue left. Glass is the perfect container, because it does not leach any harmful substances or harbor anything in scratches like plastic can or harm the grains like metal.
- For 1f or first fermentation: Add about 1 cup of whole organic milk to the grains (photo 5), the milk does not have to be room temperature. If you use warmer milk your kefir might separate sooner and you have to adjust the fermentation time. You will get a little more than a tablespoon of grains from me, so starting with a cup of milk is sufficient until the grains have adjusted and consistency, smell and taste are to your liking. Once you feel like the grains are performing nicely you can go to 2 cups of milk for your tablespoon of grains, you will get a feel for the grain/milk ratio pretty quickly. Then stir everything once.
- Cover your glass container with a piece of cheese cloth (photo 6), a kitchen towel or a paper coffee filter and secure with a few rubber bands. You want to make sure air gets in the jar, but insects and other foreign substances stay out. Some people create an anaerobic environment, closing the jar with a lid (plastic), I have found for the first ferment access to oxygen works better.
- Place your container with the now happy grains in an area between 70-75F. The warmer the temperature, the faster the fermentation, which does not necessarily mean a better product. Around 70F, which in my house means upstairs during the winter months, will give you a 20-24 h turnaround time. The grains produce a nice thick and creamy kefir and happily multiply. I tend not to disturb my kefir, but some people do stir it once in a while, I don’t think it is necessary.
- Wait around 20-24 hours, check in between to see if you start seeing any separation of kefir and whey, do these check ups until you get a good grip on the fermenting times. Your kefir should start looking like photo 1, 2 when it’s ready. If you see more separation earlier, you might have the container in a spot that is too warm, or your grains have adjusted nicely and already need more milk. Do not go beyond 48 hours, leaving the grains in the same milk for too long will starve them.
- Your kefir is done! Stir your kefir a few times with a wooden spoon and strain the batch through a tight woven plastic strainer. You can use a wooden or plastic spoon to get this done, don’t be shy, the grains are pretty hardy and won’t mind a good stir. Healthy grains will look like this. Photo 3. They are a little slimy, this is perfectly normal. Once strained, make sure you get all the good stuff from the bottom of your strainer as well. After that you can put the grains back into your clean glass container and start all over again. Photo 4, 5 and 6.
- Read on below for instructions on what to do with your just strained kefir, 2f or second fermentation.
What to do next:
I prefer a second ferment (2f) which takes place in a closed container, either on your kitchen counter or in the fridge. I personally prefer the fridge, because it is a slower ferment, which means I do not have to watch it too closely. Since CO2 will build up during the 2f the kefir might be too happy to get out of the bottle. So if you leave the bottles out, make sure you open the bottles carefully, they can bubble over. I have also noticed that placing the kefir in the fridge for the 2f will thicken it some more.
With the 2f you will get more tartness and more fizz. I like to add some fruits at this point, our favorite is some blended bananas and a stick of cinnamon, but this part is entirely up to you.
Since a healthy kefir grain will multiply quickly, I sometimes get 20g increase in 3 days. You will either need to adjust your amount of milk or discard some of the grains. I hate to just toss them out, if you feel the same, maybe you know a friend who wants some or you have some chicken? I hear they really love the grains. You can also join some of many grain sharing groups on fb.
If you need a break, you may store your grains in a cup of milk in the fridge, just make sure you exchange the milk every week or so.
If you take a break longer than a few weeks, it is recommended to dry the kefir grains. Simply rinse them thoroughly with filtered water then lay them on a piece of unbleached parchment paper. Allow the kefir grains to dry at room temperature (this can take up to 3 to 5 days depending on humidity and room temperature). You can also use a dehydrator, just make sure the grains do not get heated above 85°F.
Once the kefir grains are fully dried, they can be stored in a cool dry location (the refrigerator is best) for at least 6 months. It is helpful to store dried milk kefir grains in a small amount of powdered milk as it is healthier for the kefir grains.
Regarding freezing them… there are some people that say they have done this successfully, but I cannot yet attest to that (freezing experiment in progress).
Kefir and beyond
Maybe you are starting to produce more kefir than you can consume in a day, maybe you just need variety? Either way, another easy way to put your kefir to good use is making cream cheese. From there the possibilities are endless.
Let your kefir separate more into whey, which means leaving the grains in the milk beyond the 24 hour mark. Strain out the kefir grains as before but instead of bottling it, pour your kefir into a colander, lined with a tight woven cheese cloth and place a container beneath it to collect the whey. Put it in the fridge, slowly the kefir will thicken in the colander while the whey drains into the collection container.
I usually let the kefir do this for about two days, adding some more kefir to it depending on how much cream cheese I need, then I tie the top of the cheese cloth with a cotton string, squeeze out a little more, put it back in the colander with a small plastic container and a weight on top. This will get even more whey out of your kefir. Let it sit, checking consistency ever so often and in a few more days you will have delicious cream cheese.
I love to add herbs and garlic, but it tastes just as good plain.
What to do with the whey? Some people use the whey in smoothies or if you have a husband that uses whey as a supplement already, this is a more healthy replacement. You can also use it for watering plants, they love it. If you are watering indoor plants be aware that you might attract fruit flies. I only water my outdoor plants with it.
If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to leave me a comment. Happy kefir making!
A few Tips:
I like to rinse my grains once in a while with milk and then replace a cup of milk with a cup of heavy whipping cream (in a batch of 4 cups). This makes an especially smooth and thick kefir and seems to be like a day in the spa for the grains 🙂
If you want to fasten up the process, use room temperature milk instead of milk from the fridge.
If you make cream cheese, especially with herbs and garlic, or keep your fruity 2f in the fridge for a while, fermentation does not stop and can result in a very tangy, fizzy, sometimes explosive product. While things do not get as explosive as with water kefir, you still need to be aware.
Using milk kefir cream cheese in cheese cake recipes or as an addition to mashed potatoes did not give me satisfying results. Kefir tends to curdle when heated and I personally do not find the smell of the heated product very appealing. That is just personal preference. Be aware that the probiotic properties will also be destroyed during the heating process, which I did not consider a problem, since I consume enough Kombucha, WK and MK each day.