While I enjoy a bottle of store-bought kefir once in a while, it truly pales in comparison to homemade, whole raw milk kefir. It’s a tangy, effervescent treat packed full of healthy probiotics, and flavor variations are limited only by your imagination.
“Grains of the Prophet”
The legend is that the prophet Mohammed gave the first kefir grains (not actual “grains;” they are colonies of beneficial yeast and bacteria) to the Orthodox Christian people of the Northern Caucasus Mountain region in Russia, with instructions on making kefir. The Caucasus people embraced their gift, considering it a life-giving elixir with many health benefits. For generations, the Northern Caucasus people were well-known for producing more than their fair share of centenarians.
For centuries, possession of these grains was kept strictly amongst the people of the Caucasus region. In 1908, using some underhanded tactics including a honey trap utilizing a company spy, the Blandov brothers obtained ten pounds of kefir grains and began producing kefir for Russian doctors to give to their patients.
By 1960, kefir had been introduced to the West and today almost everyone knows what it is.
Homemade Kefir Recipe (Helpful tips follow recipe)
Quart Mason Jar
Cheesecloth/clean towel and rubber band
1 Tbsp milk Kefir grains (Note: Water kefir grains will not work with this recipe)
4 cups whole milk (I use fresh, raw milk, but pasteurized milk works also)
- Place your kefir grains in a clean quart Mason jar, as well as any liquid they were packed in
- Add 4 cups of milk
- Cover mouth of jar with clean cloth and secure with rubber band
- Place in a warm area for approximately 24 hours (top of the fridge is a good spot)
After around 24 hours, the kefir will be thick and creamy. Using a fine non-metallic strainer, pour your finished kefir into another clean jar. You will be left with your kefir grains in the strainer. At this point, you can simply drop them into another jar and add more milk for another batch, or you can add a small amount of milk and store them in the fridge for later use.
Some people like to simply put their kefir in the fridge at this point and use it after the first fermentation. I like to compare the taste to a thin, somewhat fizzy Greek yogurt drink.
However, if you wish to flavor your kefir, make it even more fizzy, and mellow out the tartness, this is the time to do it. You will need some bottles, preferably with a clamp-on lid as seen here:
Place whatever you wish to flavor your kefir with into the bottles. You can add a couple chopped up raisins, a finely minced strawberry or two, or whatever else you wish to use. Do not add a lot of fruit; the sugar causes further fermentation, and you don’t want an excessive amount of pressure in the bottles. Using a funnel, add your strained kefir to the bottles, leaving 1″ headspace, and clamp the lids down.
Leave your bottles out for approximately 6-12 hours, tasting frequently until the flavor has mellowed to your preference. The warmer it is, the faster the ferment. I like to start taste testing at about 6 hours and then every few hours after until it is how I like it. Conversely, you can also just put your second ferments straight into the fridge. It will continue to ferment but will just take longer.
- Kefir is an excellent and delicious substitute for buttermilk.
- You can make a delightful and healthy Ranch dressing using kefir.
- It takes several batches for your new grains to “mature” and reliably produce thick, creamy kefir. Don’t get discouraged if your first few batches aren’t perfect!
- It is best not to switch milk types. If you start with whole, pasteurized milk, don’t suddenly switch to raw. I would introduce the new milk you wish to start using over a couple batches before making the change.
- Everything that comes into contact with your kefir and grains should be non-metallic.
- Kefir grains reproduce! You may get to a point where you have more than you need, or you may wish to just take a short break from making kefir. Simply rinse your grains well with unchlorinated water and place in a clean jar. Cover your grains with milk so they are completely submerged, put a lid on, and store in the fridge for up to a month. When you’re ready to make some more, simply rinse and drop into your milk.
- If you don’t have room on your counter or if you work away from home for long hours and can’t be there to take care of your kefir as it ferments, you can actually make it in your refrigerator. Add grains to your milk as usual and place in the fridge. It will take a good bit longer to make your kefir, but it works.
- A second ferment is completely optional, but it does add great depth of flavor and increases the effervescence of the kefir. You also receive the added benefits of the nutrients from the fruit, as kefir makes those nutrients much more bioavailable.
- Making your own soft kefir cheese is so easy. Simply strain your kefir when it’s done, then leave it on the counter in a warm spot for another 12-24 hours. The kefir will separate into curds and whey (the whey is a great starter for lacto fermented foods, and a healthy boost for people, pets, and houseplants!). Placing a bowl underneath to catch the whey, line a colander with 2-3 layers of cheesecloth and pour the curds and whey through. Let the whey drip out for 5-6 hours, then gather the cheesecloth up, give it a firm twist, and hang it up over the bowl. Once the whey stops dripping, unwrap the cheese and add flavorings if desired. You can make a wonderful fruity spread or go savory with garlic and chives. Stores in fridge for a couple weeks.
- I haven’t tried it yet, but apparently you can even make a hard cheese out of kefir using the technique above, but then placing weight on the cheese to express more whey. It makes a crumbly hard cheese that grates well.
I am so excited to finally have a place to make kefir again! It’s something that I love doing and experimenting with. If you have any questions about the kefir-making process or have some suggestions I haven’t mentioned here, I’d love to hear them!