Kefir is a great cultured dairy product. It is easier to make than yogurt, particularly because you do not have to heat the milk first. If you are a raw milk drinker, then you preserve the enzymes in that milk by not heating it.
There are actually kefir starters available in health food stores that allow you to use a yogurt-like approach to making kefir. The starter just contains some bacteria strains different from yogurt. This is not the cheapest way to make kefir, nor the traditional approach.
Kefir is cultured from a substance called kefir grains. These grains are not anything like comes to your mind when you hear the word “grain.” Kefir grains are a symbiotic mass of bacteria and yeasts that will culture your milk for you. You can find kefir grains on the kefir yahoo group and then follow these instructions. (I may also sell them from this site at some point should I become organized enough.)
Milk kefir instructions
(1) Put your grains into a clean glass jar. Quart-sized mason jars work well.
(2) Cover with about one quart of milk.
(3) Place in cupboard or other spot out of direct sunlight.
(4) Cover jar with a clean dish towel.
(5) Let it sit for 24 hours or until it reaches desired sourness.
(6) When kefir is finished, strain grains from kefir milk.
(7) Drink kefir, reuse grains. Go back to step 1.
• Don’t use metal utensils with kefir. To strain the grains you can use a nylon strainer, a plastic slotted spoon, or a plastic colander.
• Don’t keep the brewing kefir in the direct sun.
• Don’t expose the grains to heat, e.g., don’t use a jar right out of a hot dishwasher.
Adjusting to a new home. Your first batch or two of kefir may seem extra yeasty. If that’s the case, the kefir is still fine to drink, but your kefir will mellow after the grains have been a week or so in their new home.
Tune-up: Kefir grains take on other strains of bacteria. It is possible for your kefir to seem “off.” You may even think you killed your grains. You probably didn’t. Rinse them with filtered water (non-chlorinated), put them in a glass container, cover with filtered water, store in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Strain them and make a new batch of kefir. Consider it a “tune up.”
Storing grains: If you want to take a break from your kefir making for a while, put the grains in a jar with milk (as you would to make kefir), cover with a tight fitting lid (a canning lid with plastic wrap between the lid and the glass would suffice), and store in the refrigerator. The low temperature will slow down the fermentation process of the grains; they will go into a semi-dormant state. Every week or two, change the milk and drink the kefir that you made in your refrigerator. Your grains may last longer than this, so if you do neglect them for a time, try to rejuvenate them before deciding you have killed them. Make a batch or two of kefir and see how they do.
Mom’s ideas for kefir smoothies
Homemade kefir sodas
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Food science on grass fed meat and dairy
Omega 3 and B vitamins for brain health
Pastured Cows: If you are into pastured cows, you will probably be intrigued by my snooping of a local large organic dairy that just lost its certification. We made a video eulogy to the dairy that you can view in the previous link or directly on YouTube.