When we were dating, my husband worked with a family who was from Jerusalem. The mother of the family was a wonderful cook and would regularly share her homemade creations with us. One of our favorites was her homemade Labneh or Strained Yogurt Cheese – Wowza! It has the tangy zip of yogurt and the beautiful creaminess of cream cheese. It is a versatile favorite for both breakfast or lunch and we were thrilled whenever a new container was gifted to us. Now that we have moved, I had to figure out how to bring this deliciousness back into my life, so I began experimenting on making my own.
The trick for making yogurt cheese is using Greek Yogurt; it is has less moisture in it than regular yogurt. You can make your own (here are some great instructions from Salad in a Jar), or just buy a tub of plain yogurt in the store. Using this as a basic technique you can swap out the seasonings to suit your own flavor needs. I personally love a savory garlic and herb flavored spread, but the possibilities are essentially endless. Try making a Pesto yogurt cheese or Sun Dried Tomato or Strawberry. Serve topped with a drizzle of quality olive oil and a dash of salt. Makes an excellent spread on top of bread, pita or a bagel and works great with veggies in a sandwich or as a dip.
Here’s what you’ll need:
Cheese Cloth or Flour Sack Cloth (also string to tie the cloth shut)
Optional: a Rock or Heavy Item
(Makes about 3 cups of yogurt cheese)
2 (32 oz.) tubs of plain Greek Yogurt
3 cloves of minced Garlic*
2 TBS of finely chopped Herbs* – Thyme, Oregano, Parsley
(* you can swap out the seasonings to suit your own flavor needs)
First, mix yogurt with garlic and herbs until smooth and evenly distributed.
Line your cloth in the mesh colander. Use a minimum of 3 layers of cheese cloth. If you are using a flour sack cloth you will only have the single layer. You will sit the colander over a tall bowl to catch the whey that comes off the yogurt. This is very similar to pressing tofu. Make sure that bowl is tall enough that the colander will not touch any liquid.
Pour the mixed yogurt into the cloth lined colander. Gather the cloth edges and tie tightly in the center. If you are using the flour sack cloth, instead of using string, knot the loose ends with each other.
Almost immediately you will be able to see the whey straining off the yogurt. Check and make sure you have enough layers of cheese cloth to hold in the yogurt solids (or curds). If needed, add additional layers.
For an extra boost in the straining process, place a heavy item like a rock or brick on top of the yogurt. You can use a barrier, like a plastic container or aluminum foil, to keep the food clean. Set in the fridge and let it be for at least a day.
In this example, I found that my yogurt cheese was still pretty moist after 1 day so I added the rock press. On the second day the consistency was starting to firm. You can see how the cheese firmed on some edges but was still moist in others.
I also noticed my cheesecloth was leaking too many solids (or curds). So I moved the cheese to a flour sack cloth and set back in the fridge for an additional day.
When you are finished straining you will have about a cup of whey in your bowl. The whey can be used in many ways. The Prairie Homestead has some great ideas here.
After 3 Days, my yogurt cheese was smooth and consistent. The longer you strain, the drier and more firm your cheese will be. You can shape the more firm yogurt cheese into bite-sized balls. (Traditionally served soaked with olive oil and herbs.) Place the cheese in an airtight container and use within a week. Enjoy!