You may have noticed a newer beverage appearing in the refrigerated section in recent years. Or to some have seen or been drinking it even longer...
Kefir is pretty much a fermented milk beverage. It originates in the North Caucasus region between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea. Although it's earliest records date back to the late 1800's, the drink did not make it's way around the world until the 21st century. It's milk that ferments with small cultures called kefir grains. They aren't actually from grains but are small round clumps that look like stones and harbor all the good things that make this drink. The culture is actually a mixture of various bacteria and yeasts that ferment the milk into a beverage that is full of vitamins, minerals, and probiotics. That probably explains the hype in recent years.
To make kefir is pretty simple. You add grains to milk, let it ferment at room temp for a day, remove grains, start over and drink what was fermented. The big issue is getting the grains. Unlike sourdough starters and kombucha that I can grow from things at home, grains are best given from one person to another. I have found two places online that sell dried grains but I don't 100% trust that. There are also powdered cultures that you can purchase, but they are meant for a single batch and don't produce grains to use again and again.
Now bring in my lovely friend Lisa. I met her at the local arts center in the ceramic studio. I like to throw clay. She likes to throw clay and make a lot of handles, including helping me with my first handle. One thing that I love about her is that she is like me, she is a maker. She makes pottery, she crafts, she has done sourdough, and she has kefir grains. It came up one week talking and somehow we got on the topic of ferments. I mentioned I've always wanted to make kefir, she mentions she has made it and has grains, insert my mini freak out. She brought me some grains of my own a couple weeks later.
So I had grains, I was ready to start this, but it was almost Christmas and family was coming and I did not have the time to start a new project. Into the fridge the jar of grains went and fast forward to today. I did a little research and I think the grains should be okay. They definitely thickened the milk they were in but a little water got that cleared away for the new milk.
From my understanding through Lisa and some research online, grains are hardy but will not immediately start to produce good kefir. Since they were in a long waiting period in the fridge I need to feed them daily with fresh milk before they will be more active and achieve proper kefir. After removing them from the old jar and rinsing them with water
I was able to look at them up close. They are small little clusters and when touched they were actually quite soft. I thought with a name like kefir grains they would be a little firmer but they are similar to a cheese curd texture with a slight springiness when squeezed.
I will fully admit that I did gag a little when I first touched them. It was completely unexpected and sent a shiver down my spine, but I have come to easily work with various bacteria and microscopic life before so I know I will get used to it. Especially since I have to take care of them once a day I will get a lot of time to learn about them and see what they can do.
So after a cleaning and an inspection of the grains to figure out these little aliens, I placed them into a clean jar with some fresh milk. I will check on them in the morning and see if they are ready for new milk or see if I can push them to the same time tomorrow and get a schedule going. I'll continue this for the next week and after that start inspecting the milk each day to see the flavors and smells for it to be kefir.
It will be interesting once the process get's going. Lisa told me that it's not really a schedule thing like my starter or kombucha but more of a feeling and checking on it. Since the fermentation is so quick it can be 12 hours on a hot day or 24 on a cold day. Then I have to figure out what works over that scale and hope for the best. I'm sure there will be a lot of not quite perfect days but this will be a fun way to incorporate a new ferment in my life.
I'm very excited to start this new journey in another world of fermentation. I will add updates as things go along and see what I can do with these grains. If you have experience making kefir I would love to hear from you! Feel free to reach out with any thoughts or advice. Until then...