Put Kefir grains into a clean glass jar. Add milk and gently stir with a soft edged spoon, so as not to break up the Kefir grains. Lightly screw on a plastic lid (one which won’t rust) without the cardboard insert, which could harbour the growth of unwanted organisms. Leave the lid loose enough, to allow carbon dioxide produced in the fermentation process to escape from the jar. (Unless you want a fizzy Kefir that is.) Store the culture out of direct sunlight in a cupboard or on top of the refrigerator for about 24 hours, giving it a gentle stir or shake two or three times during that period.
As fermentation is dependent on temperature, time, quantity, the activity of the culture, and the type of substrate, only experience will teach you the optimum culturing conditions. As a general guide Kefir will ferment twice as fast at 30 degrees Celsius as at 20 degrees.
Fresh milk will thicken at first into a consistency much like a smooth yoghurt, then with longer fermentation it will separate into a layer of thick curd floating on top of a greenish whey. Homogenised and pasteurised milk will give a different result to that from raw milk.
Once the Kefir has cultured to your liking, strain it through a sieve using a fork to separate the curd from the grains. Pour the curd back into its jar and put the Kefir grains into a clean jar with fresh milk and repeat the process. If you don’t have time to sieve the Kefir, just hook the grains out with a fork.
Some sources claim the Kefir grains shouldn’t come into contact with metal but I don’t think it makes any difference. In fact there was a commercial operation in Australia in 2000 that used to culture Kefir with real Kefir grains in 200 litre stainless steel drums.
If you need a rest from consuming cultured milk, then the Kefir grains should survive a few months in the refrigerator. I generally store excess Kefir grains in a small amount of milk in a jar in the fridge, so that I always have some on hand for a friend. I have heard that Kefir grains may also be stored with success in filtered water but be aware that chlorine and other chemicals may kill the culture. I sometimes culture Kefir on alternate days and leave the Kefir and the grains in a refrigerator in between times.
There is no need to warm the milk when you culture it with Kefir grains, as you would do with a yoghurt culture. In fact I would advise against doing so. The only times I have received reports of problems was from people who were trying to treat kefir as if it was yoghurt. Kefir grains seem to be quite resilient to changes in temperature. Just pour cold milk straight from the refrigerator onto the Kefir grains, or warm from the cow.
The Kefir grains should double in quantity every week. One report from a commercial manufacture, indicates that Kefir grows faster below 28 degrees Celsius. Kefir grains are edible and according to some sources have documented anticancer properties. Blend them into a banana smoothie, add them to a raw cheesecake, eat them as they are or share them with a friend.
About the Author...
Abby Eagle gives comprehensive lectures about traditional nutrition including demonstrations of recipes from around the globe. Abby is the local chapter for the Weston A Price Foundation on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. As well as a wealth of information about ancient wise food ways, he is a source of free Kefir grains and Kombucha. You can find more recipes and information at his website rejoiceinlife.com