Making Friends With Your Milk Kefir

Milk kefir is one of the best ways to get your daily probiotics. It's full of the beneficial bacteria that helps your gut and digestive system work properly. If you're new to kefir- making, it can seem a little intimidating, but once you get production dialed in to your specific home environment, it's a breeze! Here are some things to consider:

How much do you want to produce?

It's always a good idea to start on a small scale if you're new to milk kefir. It will give you a chance to get the hang of it, reduce any waste, and you'll see results sooner. If you purchase live grains from NW Ferments, you'll receive a healthy teaspoon. This is to be started in 2 cups of milk. Over time you will accumulate more grains, once they are happy and active. As grain quantity increases, increase the amount of milk as well. Move to a larger jar as needed. You will reach a point where you are producing enough (or too much) kefir. At this time, you can reduce the amount of grains you are using to produce the right amount of kefir for your consumption. Extra grains can be shared with friends, blended into a smoothie, or stored in some milk in the refrigerator in a sealed jar. This is not the ideal circumstance for the grains, but they will often snap back after a bit of a refrigerator nap.

What temperature is your home?

The ideal temperature for fermenting is about 68-74 degrees. When temps are lower, it will take longer to ferment. With higher temps it will ferment faster. Depending on the time of year and how warm you keep your home, this may require a little creativity. If things are a little on the chilly side, look for a warmer "microclimate" - on top of the refrigerator, near an electrical appliance, wrapped with a thick towel, inside an insulated ice chest. When things are on the warm side, try to find a cooler spot- away from sunlight, near to a fan or air conditioning.

What kind of milk are you using?

We use organic, homogenized, pasteurized whole milk to grow our grains. We don't recommend ultra pasteurized milk. It has been sterilized to remove all the bacteria- including the good bacteria. Goat's milk works well, but because of all the good bacteria it does contain, you may want to ease into it- use ½ goat's milk, ½ regular milk for a batch or two so that the grains adapt more easily. Alternative milks: In general, the grains do not like alternative milks. In our experiments, it will thicken (so it does culture to an extent), but doesn't seem to develop the distinctive sour flavor. If you'd like to experiment with alternate milks, we suggest you do so when you have accumulated plenty of grains to spare and can afford to lose some. These milks can cause the grains to deteriorate. How strong (sour) do you want it to be? The length of culturing time and temperature greatly determine the flavor of your kefir. The warmer it is, the faster it will turn to kefir, and the longer it is cultured, the more sour tasting it will be. It's really up to your personal preference. Longer ferments will produce even more good bacteria, but very sour kefir can taste off-putting for some. Experiment with temps and culture time until you find what tastes right for you. With longer culturing times, the whey will often separate from the milk solids. This is ok, just stir before straining. Once separated, the milk solids tend to cling to the kefir grains. This can result in a thinner kefir, and over time can coat the grains, making it more difficult to absorb nutrients. If a buildup occurs, you can rinse the grains gently with filtered water, or better yet, milk.

How else can I use my excess kefir?

Besides drinking it plain, there are many other ways to incorporate kefir into your diet. 1) Mix into your smoothies. 2) Use in place of milk or buttermilk in your recipes- kefir pancakes & biscuits! 3) Share with your animal friends- they can benefit from good gut health too! Just be sure to give them a very small amount to start, making sure they can tolerate it. Never give them too much, it can be a little strong for their tummies- particularly depending on the size of the animal. 4) Make sour cream- use a little finished kefir to culture heavy cream, or you can culture the grains directly in heavy cream (be sure to put them back in regular milk after culturing in cream. Over time it can cause them to deteriorate). 5) Skin care- probiotics are good for your outsides as well as your insides! Use a little kefir in your bath, or as a mask for your face. 6) Wash your windows- just kidding! Windows don't have digestive systems and it would make a real mess. Wanted to make sure you're listening ;) Happy Kefiring!