Dear Readers: We would like to substitute this method for the method in The Real Food Cookbook.
Kefir is a powerful probiotic-rich cultured dairy drink that’s easy to make at home, although it’s a bit of a science project at first. A mix of beneficial bacteria and yeasts, it originally comes from the Caucasus Mountains, where people have been making and drinking kefir for centuries. It’s excellent for rebuilding and maintaining healthy gut bacteria. After drinking it every day for a few months, I feel great, my GI issues are cured, and my hair is even growing in less gray! Kefir is an acquired taste, akin to unsweetened yogurt, but stronger. I love it plain, but if you don’t, try it in a fruit smoothie.
First get the starter, called kefir “grains,” ideally from a friendly kefir-maker or buy on-line from Cultures for Health. In time, your grains will naturally multiply and then you can pass some along. If your grains haven’t been used for a while or were mailed to you, your first few batches might be funky. If that’s the case, put the grains in a glass jar with a cup of milk, place it in a cupboard for 24 hours (swirl or stir it occasionally), strain, discard liquid, and repeat the cycle until it smells and tastes better. When made properly, it will have a faint sharp scent, not rotten like spoiled milk yet different from yogurt. It’s not the same as store-bought kefir, but once you acquire a taste for homemade, you’ll crave it.
Use whole raw cow or goat milk if you can, but batch-pasteurized or homogenized is fine too. Do not use ultra-pasteurized/UHT milk—it’s too sterile. Be sure your tools are clean and dry. Do not let the grains touch metal. Do not rinse the grains in water; rinse them with milk if you like. When not making kefir, keep the grains covered in milk in a glass jar in the fridge. If cared for properly and frequently “fed” with fresh milk, they’ll last indefinitely.
– Plastic or silicone (not metal) strainer
– Rubber or silicone spatula
– Glass container (pint-size or larger) with a glass or plastic lid, ideally a latch
– About 2 tablespoons kefir grains (eyeball it)
– 2 cups whole milk
– Splash of cream (optional: makes it tastier and helps the grains grow faster)
Place kefir grains in the glass container, pour the milk and cream over them, and stir. Cover the jar with a cloth or lid and place in a dark cupboard for about 24 hours. Give it a gentle swirl or nudge or shake (if you have a lid) once in a while. You’ll know it’s ready when you see several pockets of clear liquid (whey). It’s fine if it fully separates, some think it’s even better that way. In hot weather, it’ll culture faster. Experiment and find what works best for you.
Empty the jar into your strainer over a glass container (a two-cup glass measuring cup with a spout is ideal) and use the spatula to stir and scrape until all the liquid has gone through and only the grains remain. Put the strained kefir into a glass container with a tight lid and place in the fridge for another 24 hours—the second ferment. You may add flavoring at this point; I like lemon peel.
You may start another batch right away, or if not, place the grains into a jar, cover with milk (the same type you’re using to make the kefir), fasten the lid tightly, and keep in the fridge until the next use.
The grains will soon start multiplying. Once you have plenty of grains and the kefir is separating well within 24 hours, you can pass along the extra.
Top row: kefir grains, grains in jar, after 24 hours (whey separated at the bottom)
Bottom row: straining the grains, in jar with lemon peel for second ferment, grains stored in milk
Video and more information from Cultures for Health.