Strange and Mysterious Kefir

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I don’t know how it works, or why. It’s like having a strange and mysterious pet in our closet. We don’t really know what it’s doing, but we just know to keep feeding it.

Jesse and I are into breakfast smoothies. It started as a harmless habit and has quickly evolved into an expensive art form. The blame for this mostly lies with kefir, that deliciously tart, liquidy yogurt that gives the smoothie its texture and tang, balancing the sweetness of the fruit and honey. In our house, a smoothie isn’t a smoothie without it. Plain yogurt need not apply.

However, at almost $4 a quart, our kefir habit was getting ridiculous.

As with most of our nutty DIY projects, the idea started with Jesse, who has been convinced for quite some time that we could just get our own kefir grains and start our own self-sufficient, fermenting smoothie colony. Mmmm.

The "grains" aren't really grains, but rather colonies of bacteria and yeast. They look like little pieces of squishy cauliflower.

The “grains” aren’t really grains, but rather colonies of bacteria and yeast. They look like little pieces of squishy cauliflower.

I didn’t think much of it until I saw him surfing Craigslist one afternoon. “People are just giving this stuff away!” he said. Jesse works in the sharing economy and embraces the idea of sharing, bartering, and working together with unabashed enthusiasm.

Seeking balance, I meet those same ideas with unabashed suspicion and paranoia. We make such a nice couple.

“Oh yeah, some stranger will just give us kefir grains. That’s not weird or anything.”

“You think that this is a scam that someone would actually put together? Luring people with free kefir grains and then poisoning them?”

He had a point. “Anyway, this guy is just going to meet me in the park to do the exchange.”

Not sketchy at all.

The next day, as scheduled, our Craigslist connection met Jesse and put a little ziploc baggie of kefir grains in his hand. The guy wasn’t interested in conversation, or gratitude. Jesse said he barely got off his cell phone, or made eye contact. It was like an artisanal drug deal.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

We tie up the kefir grains into a little pouch of cheese cloth tied with dental floss, to make it easier to transfer from one jar to another. I replace the cheese cloth every few days.

And now, we are in business! Several days, several instructional web sites, and several botched batches later, we have a consistent supply of kefir coming out of our pantry. Once we got the proportions right it was smooth sailing. Every day we pour milk over our growing colony of grains, and the next day there’s kefir waiting for us – sour, sweet smelling, and bubbly.

Put the pouch (ours had about 2 T of grains) into a clean glass jar and cover with about 2 cups of milk.

Put the pouch (ours had about 2 T of grains) into a clean glass jar and cover with about 2 cups of milk. Replace the jar lid loosely and put it in a warm place to ferment overnight.

After 24-36 hours (depending on your ratio of grains to milk), the mixture will start to thicken. If it gets clumpy or starts to separate, you may have let it set too long. This doesn't actually matter, apparently. If it starts to separate into curds and whey (as it has started to in this photo), just shake it up and pretend it never happened, and adjust timing for next batch.

After 24-36 hours (depending on your ratio of grains to milk and the temperature of your kitchen), the mixture will start to thicken. If it gets clumpy or starts to separate, you may have let it set too long. This doesn’t actually matter, apparently. If it starts to separate into curds and whey (as it has started to in this photo), just shake it up and pretend it never happened, and adjust timing for next batch. Put your pouch in a fresh jar, cover with fresh milk, and repeat.

I don’t know how it works, or why. It’s like having a strange and mysterious pet in our closet. We don’t really know what it’s doing, but we just know to keep feeding it. So I offer these details not as instructions, per se, because we really have no idea what we’re doing. (There are lots of websites written by people who actually know what they are talking about. I would recommend referring to them before embarking.)

I’m probably not selling this very well. I can hear you saying “Maggie, you’ve got some weird substance off of Craigslist that you are letting ferment, unrefrigerated, in your pantry, and you are adding milk to it and then you are drinking it. And you have lost your mind.”

I kind of agree with you. The first few days I was nervous. But once you see that it actually works, there is something almost subversively satisfying about it. You save a bunch of money. You get to have your own little science project in your cupboard. You get to take some of the mystery, and even fear, out of your food.  And after a few weeks, when your kefir colony has multiplied and expanded, you too can be the sketchy person giving away kefir grains for free on Craigslist.

 

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4 thoughts on “Strange and Mysterious Kefir

  1. I loved reading this, I literally laughed out loud at the idea of meeting a guy in the park off Craigslist for the exchange, Not Sketchy at all! I have just started using Kefir for about a week or so now and am just as in the dark about it as you guys are. It’s reassuring to read your account of your experiences, good luck with the pet Kefir ( I also view it as strange pet that lives in the cupboard, we feed it milk and it gives us Kefir

  2. I live in Memphis, Tn. And I can’t find Kefir grains in any of the health food store which surprises me. Can you offer any suggestions to solve this problem?

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