My passion for fermentation started with kefir. I first heard about kefir in the 2010 documentary The Whole Truth about Raw Milk, and shortly thereafter began buying quarts of it from an Amish farmer. I loved the carbonated, refreshing tartness—unlike anything I had previously tasted. And drinking it after exercising helped me get past a fitness plateau I had reached. I read the instructions about how to make kefir in Nourishing Traditions, and decided to buy my own grains.
I purchased kefir grains from a vendor online. They arrived in a tiny sealed straw, about an inch long. I added them to a jar of milk, set it on a countertop, and began my fermentation journey.
Kefir grains added to milk are ready to strain in 24-48 hours. Amazed at the ease of making kefir, I started sharing with it friends and scaled up my production to produce two gallons each week. Even lactose intolerant friends could drink kefir without ill effects, because the kefir grains feed on the lactose sugars in the milk.
Kefir grains multiply quickly. The tiny grain I began with grew larger and split into new colonies. I usually keep enough grains to cover the bottom surface of a jar. Once they start taking over their environment, I either snack on them or compost them.
I’ve seen the recommendation that kefir grains should only be handled with silicone or plastic utensils, purportedly because they can react to metals. While I can’t attest from personal experience, it wouldn’t surprise me if they did react to metals, because they have more astonishing characteristics.
For instance, kefir grains can be trained to make coconut milk kefir, ginger beer, and funky fusions with kombucha mothers. Kefir also tastes great in smoothies and can be used to inoculate sourdough bread starters.
Beyond its benefit as a beverage, kefir can be strained through a cloth at room temperature to produce kefir cheese, which works as an amazing probiotic substitute for both cream cheese and sour cream.
Since beginning my kefir adventure, I’ve scaled back my production to about a quart a week, not because my initial fondness for kefir has diminished, but because it introduced me to many more food projects. I recommend reading the history of kefir in Wild Fermentation.