Getting Started with Milk Kefir


Our family loves milk kefir for various reasons. My husband and children love it for the tangy, yeasty flavor that they’ve grown accustomed to and the good feeling it leaves them with. I love it for those reasons too, but just as importantly: milk kefir is so simple to make.

We love yogurt too, but for a cultured dairy product that is simple to make and versatile I choose milk kefir. There are no incubators or temperatures to worry about so it works in our hectic, off-grid kitchen.

And of course I’m happy to get those good cultures into the bellies of my three little ones.

kefir grains1

If you’re just starting out with kefir it might be just a bit intimidating. Working with kefir grains can be both nerve-wracking and overwhelming, given the fear that you might “kill” them at any moment.

Not to worry, though, with a few simple considerations you can get your milk kefir grains supplying you with fresh cultured dairy on a daily basis – no fear or loathing necessary.


Always Remember When Making Milk Kefir:

1. Rehydrate your grains with patience. When you get your Cultures for Health kefir grains they will come in a little silver packet inside of a slightly less small green box. You will open them up and find hardened yellowish smallish granules surrounded by powdered milk.

Place those kefir grains in about a cup of fresh milk and leave for 12 hours. Repeat for 4-7 days until they are plump and your milk is beginning to smell tangy and “kefirish”, it tastes like yeasty sour yogurt, or it begins to thicken to a “drinkable yogurt” consistency.

Giving those grains frequent milk feedings and the time necessary to fully hydrate and activate them can really help your milk kefir-making in the future.


2. Feed your grains (and harvest your kefir) often. Kefir grains need milk to nourish them. Once your milk has turned to kefir, those grains no longer have food available to them. This leads to stress.

Be sure to feed them every 12-24 hours, which will also be when you harvest your fresh milk kefir. They will withstand up to 48 hours, but only occasionally and it is best to keep it short and sweet.

3. Do your best to give it a consistently warm temperature. All cultured foods vary in length of culturing time and end product depending on the temperature it is exposed to while culturing. An ideal temperature is between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Any cooler than that and it takes much longer to culture, any warmer than that and it cultures too fast and can be “off” in flavor.

Do your best to find a warm space like atop a refrigerator, in a pilot-lit oven, or close to a wood stove.



Having said all of that, try not to worry too much about creating the “perfect” environment for your kefir grains. While we should try to feed them and care for them to the best of our abilities, we must
also remember that kefir, like most cultured foods, was made for a very long time without refrigeration or room temperature-control.

Just add milk, rotate often, and treat your milk kefir grains the way you would want to be treated – minus the swimming in milk part.


Shannon is a mama to four small children, homesteader, freelance writer, and picture-taker. She lives with her husband on their off-grid homestead where they make and eat kefir, kombucha, sourdough, and fermented vegetables.

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  1. belindaeastman says

    A friend got started with a culture from her friend. I just got the “blob” from her and not knowing that it didn’t need refrigeration, I put the container in the refrigerator at work and forgot about it over night.
    The next afternoon I took it home and left it on the counter in the enclosed plastic container that she gave to me.
    Then this morning I followed her directions of putting it into a strainer, pouring milk over it, drinking it at right then, and putting the culture back in a glass with room for milk. (covered to keep flys/bugs out) So it sounds like she’s saying to make a glass of the milk from the culture each morning and then drink it. It sounds like your directions say to cover the culture in milk and then let it sit 12 hours +- and then strain it and drink and then re-cover with milk? Help. (my culture looks a little like cottage cheese) Please respond to my email address. Thank you.

  2. Kim says

    aakk! my curds accidentally got warmed on my stovetop! not boiling, but warm enough for there to be steam coming off my 1/2 gallon of beautiful, healthy curds. Have I killed them??

    • says

      Kim – Hmm, it’s hard to know unless you touched them to get an idea of just how hot they were, but I’m guessing if steam was coming off of them they might be dead. :(

      I would try to culture just a little bit of milk with them, and see how it goes. If it turns to sour or rotten milk and not kefir you will have your answer. I’ve done that same thing with sourdough so I know how disappointing it can be.

  3. Mary says

    What is the “shelf life” of milk kefir? I recently went on a 3 week fast but continued to make kefir and stored it in the fridge. Is the 3 week old kefir safe to drink? How long will it keep before it is unsafe to drink?

    • says

      Mary – Cultured milk generally has a much longer shelf life than regular milk. That said, there are too many factors at play to know for sure how long it will keep. I generally go with the rule if it smells okay and looks okay, then it’s probably okay. If it passes those two tests then you might be able to give it a tiny taste and see how it is.

      That said, I’ve eaten 3 week old yogurt before. :)


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