Labneh (Yogurt Cream Cheese)
Labneh, Labna (or similar spellings), as I have seen it labeled at Mediterranean and Middle Eastern markets, is a quite delicious and very versatile cheese.
If making cheese intimidates you, this is a great starting point. There is no messing this up and it familiarizes you with the draining of whey/use of salt and their powers, which are huge parts of making cheese. Delicious baby steps…and if you want to move on to age it, the rewards are great. Enjoy!
Want to make your own yogurt? There's a low-tech recipe in my book, One Hour Cheese!
- 1 quart plain yogurt with live cultures, whole milk is best
- 2 tsp pure flake salt (or more if you like this cheese as salty as feta)
- Colander or hanging mechanism
- Fine mesh cheesecloth, the kind we inside in our kits is perfect
- Large bowl
- Colander or hook
- Stirring spoon
- A place to hang your cheese for 24-48 hours.
NOTE: If you omit the salt and drain for just 8 hours, you can use it as you would plain cream cheese for a rich tasting but lower fat cheesecake or veggie dip. Drain for less time for Greek yogurt.
- 2 cups
Line your colander with cheesecloth and place the colander in the bowl.
Drain at room temperature (ideally) for at least 24 hours but I have found that 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, gather the ends of the cheesecloth and tie them in a knot, hang 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 (yellow liquid) and be left with a thick cream cheese.
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 bundle 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 drain for the full 48 hours and do not not eat moldy batches of course.
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 and sprinkle with za'ttar (thyme, zumac and sesame seed herb mix) or other herbs and eat with pita or cucumber spears.
Optionally, shape into round bites and air-dry on a kitchen towel or paper for a couple of days. Turn them every 8 hours so they dry evenly. When they are just dry the touch but not waxy (too far!), place them in a clear glass jar and cover with olive oil. Store in the fridge. These make an amazing appetizer or gift!
Crush bites onto bread, drop a ball into a soup, crumble onto tacos salads, almost anything. YUM!
I’m lucky to have a good friend who brought me Labneh from the West Bank. The little balls were clearly air-dried a bit so that the flavor was 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. She told me no one refrigerates these. That's the point of the preservation technique, but I personally never want to risk it and they don't last very long anyway.
- Will keep in the fridge for at least 1 month.