Some commenters asked how to make kefir, and although I don’t consider myself an expert, it’s so easy that I see nothing wrong with providing a few tips.
However, before I begin I’d like to say that I was happily surprised to see that we have a reader from Mongolia who helpfully provided a link to a site about Mongol cuisine. From Mongol Toby’s link, I learned that Mongols produce a variety of fermented milk products from different kinds of milk. When they use cow milk, they call it isgelen tarag, while horse milk becomes “airag” — otherwise known as kumis. Both would fall under the rubric of “kefir” for our purposes. Horse milk has more sugar than cow milk, so I assume the alcohol content would be a bit higher. Airag can either be drunk as is, or distilled into a liquor known as arkhi, which seems to be similar to Scottish blaand (some Scotsman recently revived the recipe). Blaand is said to have been introduced to Scotland by Vikings, who may have learned how to make it from either the Russian Tatars (i.e. Golden Horde Mongols) or the earlier Huns. I wonder whether Irish cream liqueur, which is actually a mixture of whiskey and cream, wasn’t inspired by some original fermented milk drink from the Isles.
On to steps for making kefir:
First, obtain kefir grains. I ordered some from this woman, who goes by “Kefir Lady.” If you want in-depth information, her site provides it. She sends a packet of fresh, live kefir grains that she’s grown in goat milk via priority mail for a $20 Amazon gift card or $20 cash.
Although she won’t send you a large amount of grains, hers are healthy and high quality, and they grow quickly as you make kefir, so you’ll soon have more than you need, at which point you can throw out the excess or give it away to friends.
When you get started the grains may be a little goaty. For those using goat milk it won’t make any difference, but the first batch or two with cow milk (most convenient for most of us) will taste a little “different.” But that’s OK, because your first few batches will be experimental.
You want to start with a ratio of about ten parts milk to one part kefir grains, so measure your grains to see how many tablespoons you have, set them aside, and then measure out ten times as much milk.
Put the milk in a glass jar, such as a mason jar.
For your first batch, I’d recommend warming the milk to room temperature before adding the kefir grains, so partially fill a pot with warm water and place your mason jar in the water so as to warm up the milk. This will increase the fermentation rate.
When the milk is warm (do not let it get hot), remove the jar from the water bath and drop in the kefir grains, then loosely cover the top of the jar so gas can escape. I use a mason jar lid with the band only partly screwed down, but you can use a cloth held on with a rubber band as well.
Now place the jar somewhere warm and out of direct sunlight. A cupboard is fine.
As the milk begins to ferment, you’ll see it getting bubbly up top. Swish it around or shake it every now and then to keep the curds from separating, and after 24 hours you have kefir.
Chill it in the fridge and drink it without fear.
The first few batches might taste a bit odd as the grains adjust to your brand of milk, so you can experiment a bit by adjusting the ratio, putting the milk in at slightly higher or lower temperatures (again, not so high it will kill the yeast), and leaving it for longer or shorter times. There are also techniques that produce thinner or thicker consistency; some kefir is almost as thick as yogurt, but it can also be almost as thin as milk depending on how you make it. You can even try screwing a lid on tightly if you want it to develop more carbonation, but beware — gas pressure can break jars.
The longer you ferment it the more sour and alcoholic it will become. I once left some in the jar for four days to see what would happen, and the resulting product, which I was too chicken to drink, smelled like wine. I bet it had an alcohol content of over 5%. There are all sorts of uses for the curds and whey if you really want to get creative with the stuff, and the Kefir Lady provides some instructions for using it in that manner. The nice thing about the kefir grains is that they effectively prevent spoilage for quite a while, so you have more time to work with the milk products.
So if you’re interested go ahead and get started. It’s easy and cheap, and kind of fun.