In the interest of time I'll spare you the details of what kefir is, its history, and the science behind it. To find out more then you ever wanted to know about kefir, check out Doms Kefir In-site, he seriosly answers any question you .... I learned by reading and rereading Doms site, and he updates it regularly with more info, recipes, and methods for using kefir grains for fermenting other drinks. I still check it out every week because theres so much still to learn, and he has a ton of info on his sites.
Why do I bother making it? To summarize, I drink it because its like yogurt but tastier, its fizzy, and because I think its really cool how these little cauliflower like 'grains' turn milk into something different.
Because I am working with a dairy product, I make sure everything that touches the milk or kefir is very clean, not sterilized, but just washed with hot water and soap and rinsed very well. Remember we are activly trying to give the milk a good environment for the kefir to ferment as it would, and if any other 'bad bugs' get into the party it can cause issues.
My basic kefir making supplies are:
1 glass quart canning jar (washed in hot soapy water, rinsed very well, and air dried) and its 2 piece lid
1 glass quart jar of fresh milk/kefir grains thats cultured as long as I've intended (more on this later)
jug of fresh milk, fresh from your animal or from the fridge.
*** if you have never made kefir before and have just gotten your grains, you should have a small bowl of your kefir grains soaking in a bit of cool, filtered and very importantly unchlorinated water (chlorine kills things, dont kill your grains) and 1 jar of fresh milk ready to go
1 small strainer that fits in the opening of your quart jar (some people avoid metal, I never had a problem with my particular little strainer)
1 small bowl/dish for collecting the kefir grains as they get strained out
1 long handled spoon, for stirring
First of all, observe your grains. Take a whiff of them, either the jar of cultured milk with the grains floating in it, or your shipped container of grains in their liquid. Its normal for them to smell slightly yeasty, or kinda sour like a good yogurt ( the longer its cultured the more 'tangy' it smells), but not bad like rotten milk or heaven forbid rotten eggs, that means some other bacteria got into your culture or the milk and contaminated your liquid. Do not drink the liquid, but do not throw away your kefir grains, they can be rinsed and reused, but more on that later. The more you get used to making kefir, the more you get a sense ( and smell) of whats normal and whats bad.
I start and end my kefir culturing in the fridge, so when I am about to stain my kefir the grains have either sunk to the bottom, or more often risen to the top and are trapped in this thick mass of what looks like curds or foam on the surface, depending on how long it was culturing, if it was culturing at a lower temp in the fridge vs at room temp, and how often I disturbed the kefir by shaking the jar or stirring. I break it up with a spoon to make straining the grains out of the liquid easier.