There is something magical about making cheese. It is dairy alchemy. The whole cheese making process looks so simple on TV, the process of straining curds and stretching long bands of mozzarella. And maybe it is simple. But if you don’t want to invest in materials and you like a sure thing, labneh is the easiest way to get started. The simple process of straining yogurt, souring the curds, and seasoning your batch allows you to totally control the flavor of your cheese. The end result is delicious spreadable cheese that can be used in a variety of different ways. But the best part of making labneh? You can casually mention to people that you are making cheese. Pretty cool, right?
My labneh experiments were inspired by a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe from one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, “Ottolenghi.” He walks you through the yogurt straining process and how to roll and store the cheese, but I like to change the flavors a bit. Straining the yogurt for 2 days give you a tangier flavor, similar to that of cream cheese. I like straining it for 1 day on the counter before refrigerating for a less sour flavor. Also, the process is a little trickier during the summer when your kitchen warms up. The heat rushes the souring process, so check your labneh regularly.
If you want thinner cheese, allow the yogurt to strain for just a couple of hours. This will give you a texture more similar to hummus, as opposed to the cream cheese like texture you get when you strain for 2 days. It is less tart than your standard Greek yogurt, with a more luxurious feel. (And yes, I just used the word “luxurious” in reference to a dairy product. Oye.) Both ways are delicious!
Thicker labneh is delicious spread on toast with sliced veggies – beets are my favorite! (I’m currently obsessed with LoveBeets!) Try rolling labneh into balls and placing them in a jar with olive oil and seasonings. This holds up well for weeks, although be careful with adding strong flavors like garlic because they change with time. I love adding zatar seasoning to the mix so that I have flavored cheese ready to go at any time.
Thinner labneh makes a great dip for veggies or pita. Pour a little olive oil on top and a sprinkle of zatar to make it a little bit more exotic. Or you can try it as a spread on sandwiches instead of cream cheese and it doesn’t get soggy if you pack it in your lunch box!
Not familiar with zatar? It is a Middle Eastern spice blend that includes thyme, sumac and sesame seeds, although blends differ by recipe. I have tried several brands now but I frequently buy the large bags at my local Middle Eastern market. Once you have a large bag you will start sprinkling zatar on tons of other things too. Just wait.
If you haven’t noticed it yet, I’m on Yummly! If you are new to Yumming, it is simple: you can follow your favorite publishers and save their recipes. You can even sort based on your dietary preferences, cuisines and levels of difficulty. Follow along with me on my Yummly page and start Yumming away! And yes, that is the orange Yummly icon on the left. Thanks for noticing.
- 1 quart whole milk plain yogurt
- Cut 2 long lengths of cheesecloth, about 2 feet each
- Layer one on top of the other in an X
- Put the yogurt into the middle of the X and pull each end of cheesecloth together
- Knot at the top and hang from somewhere where it can drip without ruining anything.
- Place a bowl underneath.
- For creamier labneh, allow yogurt to drip for 2-3 hours.
- For thicker labneh, allow yogurt to drip for 1 day.
- For thick and sour labneh, allow yogurt to drip for 2 days total.