While some may not consider this an honest-to-goodness cheese, entire countries would disagree and so do I. Labneh (or similar spellings), as I have seen it labeled at Mediterranean and Middle Eastern markets, is a quite delicious and very versatile cheese. Not only that, if making cheese intimidates you, this is a good starting point. There is no messing this up and it familiarizes you with the draining of whey/use of salt and their powers, which is a huge part of making cheese. Delicious baby steps…enjoy!
- 1 quart plain yogurt (if you want to make your own yogurt, try our kit! It also makes feta)
- 2 tsp pure flake salt (or more if you like this cheese as salty as feta, experiment)
- colander or hanging mechanism
- butter muslin or similarly tight cheesecloth- even a new or boiled tea towel/pillowcase will work
- Large bowl
- Colander or hook
- Stirring spoon
- A place to hang your cheese for 12-24 hours.
NOTE: If you omit the salt and drain for just 4-8 hours, you can use it as you would plain cream cheese for a rich tasting but lower fat cheesecake or veggie dip.
- STEP 1 – Line your colander with cheesecloth and place the colander in the bowl.
- STEP 2 – Stir the salt into the yogurt and dump it all into the cheesecloth-lined colander.
- STEP 3 – Drain at room temperature (ideally) for at least 12 hours but I have found that 24-48 hours gives me a thicker, more complex cheese. You can leave it in the colander (cover with more cloth so keep out dust etc.) or what I prefer, by gathering the ends of the cheesecloth and tying them in a knot, hanging them on a hook or cupboard handle, suspended above a bowl to catch the moisture draining from your cheese.The idea is to drain the whey and be left with a thick cream cheese. My favorite way to release whey is by hanging bundles from a “Banana Tree”. Most people hang the bag of yogurt from a cupboard handle with a bowl beneath it. If you have cats/flying bugs or other reasons why you don’t want it out in the open, you can hang the wet bundle from a rack in your fridge with a bowl beneath it.NOTE: Refrigerated draining takes longer and produced a less complex flavor but if you just can’t leave it out, let it drain in the fridge until you like the results.
Beware, it starts smelling a bit fermented and cheesy but this is good! When it’s done, you will have a thick, tart, delicious little ball of yogurt cheese. Don’t worry about spoilage because the bacteria and salt both protect against it. If you are in a very hot climate or reduce the salt, keep a close eye on it because these conditions can allow for mold. Do not eat moldy batches.
What to do with your Labneh or Yogurt Cream Cheese
- Mix or top with Mediterranean herbs like thyme and some fresh cracked pepper then use as a dip or spread for flat bread and crisp veggies. Drizzle with plenty of good olive oil!
- Roll into little balls, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with zattar (thyme, zumac and sesame seed herb mix) or other herbs and eat with pita.
- Use it liberally and drop a ball into chili, tacos, salads etc. YUM!
I’m lucky to have a good friend who brought me real Labneh from the West Bank. The little balls were clearly air-dried a bit so that the flavor was even more mouth-watering and intense. It’s amazing that something so simple can end up with a flavor as intense as goat cheese or feta!
Tasting the real thing (and asking her to to interview grandmas on their methods) has improved my version of this cheese drastically! I hope you try this and love it as much as I do. It’s honestly my favorite cheese.
The photos below show you my inspiration. Thank you Stephanie 🙂