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labneh

Yogurt Cheese (Labneh) Made at Home is Exotic Comfort Food

It’s no secret that I love fermenting and fermented things: sourdough waffles, kosher dill pickles, kimchi…on anything. And ever since I milked my first cow in 2010 I’ve planned to make yogurt at home.

Alas, I never have. Until now. Not because someone put a quart of fresh milk on my porch {though that can happen here especially at this time of year when calving is on} but because I received a new cookbook called Yogurt Culture by Cheryl Sternman Rule.

I picked up the package from the post office, and still wearing my big down coat, I read the introduction {she’s a lovely writer and entertaining storyteller} and paged through the entire book standing at the kitchen counter. Turning past the chapters enticingly entitled “Sip,” “Slurp,” Chill” and “Lick,” I found the recipe I’d be making immediately.

Labneh.

A simple cheese to make at home

Lab-what? Just call it yogurt cheese, a strained-yogurt fresh cheese that is a staple in throughout the Middle East and beyond for reasons I’ll share and hope you’ll go on to discover on your own. (Yes, more culinary travel you can do at home.)

labneh preserved in oil

In particular, it was the recipe Labneh Spheres Preserved in Olive Oil I had to have. So while I source for raw milk and other supplies I’ll need to start my first batch of yogurt, I’m exploring the savory side of yogurt–one of the most intriguing aspects of Cheryl’s book–and making labneh.

It sounds exotic but making labneh is the simplest fresh cheese to make at home. No heat, no thermometers, no timers. Just strain the best yogurt you can find overnight.

You end up with the liquid whey drained off, leaving a thickened tangy, spreadable, spoonable, delectable homemade cheese.

Making labneh

I started with whole milk yogurt, and I discovered that my old-fashioned applesauce maker provided the ideal apparatus for hanging the salted yogurt to drain in a flour cloth sack. Suspended, the weight of the yogurt drained off the whey quickly.

labneh (yogurt cheese) hanging method

In less than 24 hours I had a spreadable labneh with a consistency like cream cheese.

The longer the yogurt strains and sits, the thicker and tangier the labneh gets. At about 30 hours, it was quite thick with an almost crumbly consistency like fresh goat cheese.

Oh, and since I am a fermentation devotee I drained the yogurt on the counter at room temperature in a probiotic-friendly 65 degrees F. Overnight those lactobacilli worked their wondrous transformation of the ordinary into the outstanding.

“What is this?” my husband asked, wide-eyed, on his first taste.

Before I even had a chance to preserve the labneh in olive oil, I’d put it on a hot pizza with garlicky kale, spread it with flaked sea salt on crackers and rolled it in pita with salad greens and some of my quick-preserved lemon.

labneh (yogurt cheese) in processIf this kept up, I was going to be clean out of labneh and soon.

And more labneh

But all I had to do was get to the store for another quart of grass-fed milk yogurt and I was nearly all the way there. This labneh batch I scooped into teaspoon-sized globes and submerged them into olive oil.

(Happily, I just stocked up on genuine, great-quality olive oil in bulk.) Stored in the fridge, the labneh lasts for several weeks.

To serve, I brought the cold, solidified olive oil to room temperature, fished out the labneh and served them sprinkled with flake sea salt and saffron.

labneh appetizer

At last, I have something fantastically tasty to whip out at cocktail hour, even if it’s just for me.

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Homemade Labneh (Yogurt Cheese)

While you can find prepared labneh in Middle Eastern markets or some urban grocers, it's easy to make at home from your favorite brand of plain yogurt (cow, goat or sheep milk) using this method from the book Yogurt Culture by Cheryl Sternman Rule. Store as is in bulk or roll into balls stored in olive oil. Serve garnished with any combination of fresh herbs, chopped olives, za'atar, chopped pistachios, saffron and preserved lemons. along with flatbreads or crackers.

Course Appetizer
Cuisine Mediterranean
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Author Lynne

Ingredients

  • 1 quart plain yogurt, whole or low fat organic, grassmilk
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions

  1. Line a strainer or colander with enough cheesecloth or a flour sack towel to hang over the sides and set it over a deep bowl (so that the bottom of the strainer will be above the level of the strained liquid whey).
  2. Mix the salt into the container of yogurt stirring well and use a rubber spatula to transfer it all into the lined strainer. Wrap the overhang loosely over the top of the yogurt and cover with a piece of plastic wrap. To speed things up, weight the yogurt with a heavy pan lid or use a resealable freezer bag filled with beans or water.
  3. Leave it at room temperature or in the refrigerator and check it in 24 hours. There will be a generous cup or more of whey in the bowl and the yogurt will be very thick. Check the consistency and continue draining if you'd like it thicker, up to 36-48 hours for the firmest labneh and for preserving it in oil.
  4. Scrape the labneh from the cloth into a container and store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

  5. To preserve the labneh in olive oil, roll teaspoon-sized pieces of firm labneh between your palms to form spheres and drop them into a sterilized glass jar. Cover with olive oil and store in the refrigerator where it will keep for 2 months. 

  6. To serve, scoop out the labneh with some of the oil and bring to room temperature before garnishing as desired.

Comments

  1. Lynne, this looks DIVINE.

    I wish I had a fabulous applesauce maker like the one you used, I’ve only used a regular round-bottomed strainer and it definitely takes a bit longer. How clever to find a new use for that!

    I really love your idea of storing the cheese in olive oil, I can only imagine how wonderful that makes it. Yummy stuff!

    -Lauren-

  2. Hi Lauren,
    It’s true that hanging is more efficient. One way to speed things up is to weight the yogurt (which is what Yogurt Culture recommends, so I’m going to update my recipe right now–thanks!). So if you try that let me know how it goes–and especially do go the olive oil route.

  3. Optionally, shape into round bites and air-dry for a couple of hours before covering with olive oil in a glass jar. Amazing appetizer or gift!

  4. I like the air-drying idea, Andrew. I truly cannot get enough of these, as if I just discovered fresh cheese or something. I have yet to share them, but they would be a great gift.

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