How to make your own milk kefir
Knowing how to ferment foods is an excellent homesteading skill whether you’re living on a small farm, in a city apartment, or somewhere in between. Knowing how to ferment will empower you to make your own nutrient and probiotic-rich foods, help save you money, and is also just really fun! It’s like a science project in your kitchen everyday!
Milk kefir is just one of many different fermented foods you can make at home, but it may actually be the easiest once you establish a good routine and know what you are aiming for.
My first attempts
I first tried making milk kefir about six years ago. I had received some milk kefir grains at a food swap, followed the directions for making the kefir, but wasn’t convinced that I was getting the right result. My kefir was very yeasty and separated very easily.
I kept trying. I eventually learned that milk kefir grains are subject to partial die-offs and decided that this had probably happened to mine, so I sourced some new ones.
What is milk kefir anyway?
Milk kefir is a fermented dairy beverage, made when kefir grains are added to dairy or non-dairy milk. It has a yeastier taste than yogurt and sometimes has bubbles in it.
When you make your own milk kefir, it will not taste the same as the commercial kind. Commercial milk kefir – that is, the kind you buy in a plastic bottle at the grocery store – is not made with kefir grains, but rather, with isolated strains of bacteria and yeasts. This is to create a more reliable product and keep the bottles from expanding on the shelf.
Some would say that commercial milk kefir is not authentic milk kefir! I like the taste of both the homemade and the commercial varieties, but making it myself saves me money and reduces the amount of packaging I have to recycle, so I like to make my own.
Milk kefir grains
Much like the SCOBY of kombucha fame, milk kefir grains are a Symbiotic Community Of Bacteria and Yeasts. We could call it a SCOBY too, if we wanted, but that term is primarily used with kombucha.
Nobody really knows where milk kefir grains came from originally, but it is thought to have originated somewhere in the Eastern Caucasus.
If you need milk kefir grains, you might be able to find them from someone in your community who has some extras (as you will once you get rolling), or an online seller who uses organic milk, preferably.
The benefits of milk kefir
In a workshop I took, Sandor Katz claimed that milk kefir has the most numerous strains of bacteria of any fermented food. Since our microbiomes thrive with biodiversity, more numerous strains of bacteria is a good thing!
Making milk kefir is a great way to preserve milk if you are a dairy farmer or have access to large amounts of milk at a time. Fermented milk kefir will last much longer than milk. During a 2 week winter power outage, I added milk kefir grains to the two gallons of milk I had in the (now powerless) fridge. The kefir grains created a sour environment that prevented the milk from going bad and the cool indoor temps slowed the fermentation down so that no milk was lost.
Milk kefir is a tasty snack, or great baking ingredient. I use it to replace buttermilk, which I rarely have on hand. It can also replace yogurt, though is less thick.
Types of milk
You can make milk kefir with any type of dairy milk. I am currently using goat milk for mine, and love the taste of it. I would love to try making it with sheep milk.
As for non-dairy milk kefir, it is possible, but I haven’t experimented with this personally. I have heard that coconut milk kefir is delicious.
Sustainability is a big motivator for me and so I buy goat milk from a local farm, that way there’s less of a carbon footprint involved.
Recipe for homemade milk kefir
Assemble your ingredients and supplies: Milk, milk kefir grains, a clean pint jar, a coffee filter (or cheesecloth or a kitchen towel) to cover the jar, and a rubber band to secure it. You will also need a small container to store your back up milk kefir grains in the fridge.
When you’re ready to make milk kefir, place your grains (about 1 tsp – 1 tbsp) in the jar.
Add milk up to the threads of the jar. You should have about an inch of space at top. This space will prevent your cover from getting wet.
Cover with your coffee filter and secure with a rubber band. Place your milk kefir jar on your counter or a shelf for 12 – 24 hours. The fermentation time will depend on the temperature in your house and how activated your grains are. Grains that are in a good routine will ferment faster than new ones that you are just getting started.
In 12 – 24 hours, you will have mature milk kefir, ready to drink. Just remove the grains, and either repeat the fermentation process, or store your grains in fresh milk, in the fridge, for later use.
I like to store my extra milk kefir grains in this cute little terracotta yogurt cup. I only have one of these so this way I can easily identify my grains in the fridge. If you accidentally eat or drink a milk kefir grain, no worries! They are a little rubbery but won’t hurt you. Just make sure you keep some to reuse. When you have too many grains, you can give them away, compost them, or feed them to your dogs or chickens.
As for your mature milk kefir, either enjoy it immediately or refrigerate and drink cold. During summer I like mine cold, in winter, I prefer it at room temp.
Tips / Troubleshooting:
– If the whey separates from your milk kefir, just shake or stir.
– If you let your kefir go too long (more than 48 hours), whey separation will occur, and the kefir will be more cheese-like.
– Different types of milk will result in different types of kefir. It may take a couple of rounds fermentation to adapt your Milk Kefir grains to the new type of milk you are using.
– When you make your very first batch of milk kefir, it may not be the best. Taste it to see. You may want to throw out your first batch of Kefir, use it in baked goods, or feed it to your pets!