Making milk kefir at home is super easy. This delicious, sparkly, probiotic milk drink is great for both beginning fermenters, and those with lots of experience at making cultured dairy foods.
Milk kefir can be drunk straight away, it can be given a 2F second ferment with berries or other flavorings, it can be used to make delicious kefir smoothies, and it can even be used to make kefir cheese!
If you’ve been making milk kefir for a while, then you will know how simple the process is. Are you keen for your first taste of homemade kefir? Read on!
Milk kefir is an effervescent milk drink, originating from the Balkans and Caucasus mountains.
Read more about milk kefir here: What is Milk Kefir?
Making kefir is becoming more popular in the West due to its probiotic and antioxidant properties (more about those here), and just because it’s fun to drink slightly fizzy milk.
Think of it as a runny, drinkable yogurt.
Milk kefir is easy to make in your own home, all you need is some milk, and some kefir grains.
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How to make milk kefir at home
Step 1: Source your ingredients
Like a kombucha scoby, kefir grains are one of those things that you need to actually get your hands on. If you have no luck tracking down a milk kefir brewer in your area, then your best bet is to buy one from a reputable supplier. (Amazon stocks a variety of kefir grains for purchase)
You’ll need about a teaspoon of grains per cup of milk, but this can vary depending on how active your culture is. The grains will multiply over time.
Just like when you buy kombucha grains, only buy from within your own country (unless you’re sure that you aren’t breaking any laws). Different nations have different rules around importing microbial cultures and it would be terrible for your kefir grains to be incinerated at the border! (not to mention the fines you might accidentally attract).
Kefir can be made with any animal milk – goat, cow, buffalo, sheep, camel. Just whatever you have on hand. It does work better with whole-fat milks rather than reduced fat ones.
The closer you can get to milk that has come straight from the animal, the more authentic (and better) the flavor will be.
Raw, organic whole milk from healthy, happy animals is best. If using raw milk, do make sure the herd or flock are regularly tested for the standard diseases of your area. Raw milk is wonderfully safe, so long as the animal is not infected with anything that will pass through her milk, and so long as the milk is handled with thoroughly cleaned and maintained equipment, and stored appropriately.
Raw milk is not widely available, though, so don’t despair! Milk kefir will work absolutely well with whatever milk you can get from your local supermarket or food shop.
Step 2: Mix kefir grains and milk
Add your grains. You’ll need at least a teaspoon per cup of milk.
Step 3: Leave kefir to ferment
Cover your jar with a clean cloth or paper towel, secured with a rubber band or something similar. Or if using a flip-top jar, close the lid after removing the rubber ring.
Leave your jar on the bench overnight, or until you like the flavor.
Step 4: Finished milk kefir
Step 5: Strain the grains and drink
Strain the grains out and enjoy your fresh kefir!
There are three ways to strain out the grains. The most straightforward is to use a plastic strainer, as shown in the picture. Another way is to pour the kefir out into a shallow dish and pick the grains out with a spoon. Or you can carefully pour the liquid kefir milk off the top of the grains, keeping them in the jar, and then top the jar up with fresh milk.
If the kefir is too thick to pour easily through a strainer, the best way is to plop it into a dish, wash your hands thoroughly, and use your fingers to gently separate the grains from the thick kefir milk.
The grains can be used straight away to make another batch of kefir and in fact they’re happiest that way – in milk at room temperature. If you really need to store them for longer you can pop them in some fresh milk and store them in the fridge. (but be aware that they’re likely to suffer the same problems as kombucha when kept in the fridge – see this post about keeping kombucha out of the fridge)
Once you’re comfortable with how to make milk kefir, you can experiment with other recipes.
You can give milk kefir a second ferment, like you do with kombucha, to add flavors without contaminating the grains. Try fermenting the kefir milk for a further night with berries, a vanilla bean, or a slice of orange in it.
If you leave the kefir grains in for long enough, the milk will become acidic enough to separate fully into curds and whey – and then you can make cheese! (For another easy fresh cheese recipe, check out how to make Icelandic Skyr)
And the internet is full of kefir smoothie recipes. Pick your favorite flavor combination and go wild.
Note: A gigantic and very special thanks to blog readers and kefir-makers extraordinaire Fran, Ellen, and Jess for sharing their kefir pictures with me and giving their permission to use them. Thank you!
Read about other fermented milk drinks here: 16 European fermented milk drinks you’ve NEVER heard of.