Dairy Diaries: How I Make Dairy Kefir

Dairy Diaries: What is Dairy Kefir and how do I make it?

By Ryan Roberts, 2019 Ranch Apprentice


 My name is Ryan and I'm part of the apprentice team at Rancho Mastatal for 2019. I've been navigating my lactose-intolerance since I was a child and gluten-intolerance since I identified it approximately five years ago. In this and the following installments of Dairy Diaries. I'll be exploring dairy kefir, in my personal effort to find ways to make dairy products I enjoy healthier, more digestible and more delicious.

I have a mixed understanding of my dairy sensitivity, in part because throughout my life I have chosen to accept the consequences of consuming dairy products that I enjoy such as cheese and ice cream. Over the last few years, in an effort to better understand the nuances of my sensitivity, I've taken to experimenting through exposure and carefully observing my reactions.

Since arriving at the Ranch, I've taken a fascination with dairy kefir, a cultured milk product which we make regularly as a base for salad dressing. My interest was piqued upon discovering that the salad dressing failed to upset my sensitive stomach.

Dairy kefir is tangy, effervescent and probiotic, closely comparable to yoghurt, with origins in the Caucasus Mountains of Eastern Europe. It is made using a dairy kefir SCOBY, which stands for a "symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast", which are often called "grains" in the case of dairy kefir. Dairy kefir grains look like clumped grains of rice that are yellowish white. They tend to clump together in spongy, somewhat tough little colonies.



The SCOBY consumes the sweet lactose in the milk, converting in into lactic acid and multiplying the microorganisms beneficial to the health of our stomach, intestines and the whole ecosystem of our body. This makes it possible for folks with a sensitivity to lactose to consume delicious milk products fermented with this SCOBY.

It's delicious, it's great for you, and I'm excited to share that it is stupid easy to make and maintain.

It really is as simple as adding the dairy kefir SCOBY to your milk and letting the little SCOBYs get to work. When you are ready to consume your freshly fermented kefir, strain out the grains using a fine mesh strainer and a spoon, wash your container lightly and reintroduce the SCOBY and a new batch of milk.

The Process
1. Clean your container, using boiling water for your first clean. Let the glass cool.
2. Put a spoon-full of dairy kefir SCOBY into your container. 
3. Pour your milk into your container, taking care to minimize splashing.
4. Place a lid over the container, creating only a light seal to allow CO2 to escape.
5. Let sit for desired level of tanginess.
6. Pour fermented milk and grains out through a fine mesh strainer.
7. Gentle rinse your container, ensuring you clean areas where the milk is splashed above the milk line.
8. Use a gentle scooping motion along the bottom of the strainer to find your grains.
9. Place them back into your container, refill with milk and lightly stir the milk with a clean spoon.
10. Enjoy your dairy kefir!


Here are some considerations when raising and caring for your dairy kefir babies:

Warmer temperatures accelerate the work of the dairy kefir SCOBY significantly. Here at the Ranch, we let our kefir sit for 12 hours to 20 hours through the heat of the day and the temperate evening. Generally after 12 hours, we put the fermented dairy kefir in the refrigerator overnight, but leaving it over night has led to a tangier, more desirable final product and an easier process.

The longer you let your dairy kefir SCOBY work, the tangier, thicker, more probiotic, and in my opinion, more delicious the kefir will become. Sit time varies based on your preference from 12 to 48 hours, depending on temperature. Refrigeration will allow you to store the kefir for up to a week. Note that while this significantly slows the metabolism of the SCOBY, the enzymatic activity remains active, breaking down the milk into more bioavailable and nutritious bits for our stomach.

Like many ferments, the SCOBY creates an environment for itself that limits the growth of competing organisms through increased acidity and the production of ethanol (though in dairy kefir the alcohol is negligible). This means that the risk of contamination is limited to that which remains outside the milk. The best way to mitigate any rogue elements is to wipe away any splashed or remaining milk that won't be under the liquid. Other than that, thorough cleaning of the container for the dairy kefir is unnecessary - a simple water rinse will suffice.

The little yellow white SCOBY is actually quite durable and resilient, so don't worry about being terribly ginger with them. The only thing we want to avoid doing is pressing the grains through the fine mesh, which will cut and damage them. Prevent this by using a light scooping motion along the bottom of the strainer.

The SCOBY is also resilient to being left in the milk. If you want to take a break from the dairy kefir, you can do so by refrigerating the SCOBY in milk for weeks at a time. Every two weeks replace the milk with a little bit of new milk. It doesn't needed much.

The SCOBY will also grow in size and multiply. When you begin to find more grains, you can remove them and place them in a separate container to make even more kefir, or better yet, gift them to a friend! Dairy kefir, like many ferments, is the gift that keeps on giving.

So go forth and spread the love: for your taste buds, your gut, and your friends.

If you are interested in fermentation why not join us for our upcoming tropical homebrewing workshop?

Rancho Mastatal Food Skills , Dairy Kefir, Laura Killingbeck

Brazilian Journal of Microbiology