Labneh – a yogurt cheese of middle eastern origin – is remarkably versatile and very easy to make at home. Alternately known as lebni, labni or laban, labneh is found all across the middle east where it’s popularly rolled into small balls, served with unrefined extra virgin olive oil and used as a condiment. Preparing this labneh recipe at home requires little more than fresh yogurt and a swath of cheesecloth. If cheese-making piques your interest, labneh is a very good cheese for beginners due to the little amount of expertise it requires, its minimal effort and its very high rate of success.
Labneh is versatile in its application in the kitchen. In our home we often substitute labneh for regular cream cheese or for neufchÃ¢tel or even sour cream when none is available. Mixing labneh with olive oil and fresh herbs such as parsley, dill or marjoram makes a dip for vegetables and breads that is charming and elegant in its simplicity. Simple food is often the best food.
For your labneh, you’ll want to choose a good fresh yogurt. In preparing my labneh, I prefer a homemade yogurt prepared from fresh raw milk. Matsoni (pronounced madzoon) is a room temperature or mesophilic yogurt culture that is particularly well-suited to making labneh. Its flavor is mildly sour and quite pleasant. You can find a matsoni or other yogurt starters online (see sources). While I prefer matsoni, any yogurt will do and even kefir works quite well.
Labneh, like all cultured dairy foods is rich in beneficial bacteria. As a probiotic food, labneh carries with it all the benefits of yogurt. Foods rich in beneficial bacteria support proper immune system function, and the process of lactic acid fermentation increases the vitamin content of many foods. If possible, source your milk or yogurt from healthy, grass-fed cows and keep it whole. The butterfat of cows fed on grass is considerably higher in CLA than the milk of cows fed a conventional diet largely comprised of corn and soy. (Read more about CLA Disease and Diet).
- ¼ to ½ gallon Fresh Yogurt
- ½ tsp Unrefined Salt per quart of yogurt
- Extra Virgin Unrefined Olive Oil
- Herbs, (optional ingredient)
- Set your sieve above your bowl.
- Fold the cheesecloth into quarters and set it inside the sieve.
- Mix yogurt with unrefined sea salt.
- Pour the yogurt and salt mixture into the sieve lined with cheesecloth.
- The initial straining will happen quickly as the bulk of the liquid and some of the yogurt itself will strain through the cloth and sieve into the bowl.
- After the initial straining (5 – 10 minutes or so), gradually and carefully fold the ends of the cheesecloth in toward the center and twist them gently into a nice, tight package of yogurt that can easily hang from a hook.
- Tie the package together with a rubberband and hang it from a hook, placing your bowl beneath to catch any dripping whey.
- If you do not have a hook set up, you can tie off the package and leave it in your strainer provided you watch the level of the whey, ensuring it never reaches the strainer. Hanging from a hook speeds up the straining process.
- Hang your yogurt for at least 12 hours and preferably 18 – 24. The longer you hang the yogurt, the thicker your labneh will be.
- After your yogurt has hung for a sufficient period of time, remove it from the hook and gently take off the cheesecloth. You’ll find that the yogurt is smooth and thick like cream cheese.
- You can store the yogurt in small mason jars in the refrigerator or store them in olive oil with herbs.
- To store labneh with olive oil, roll the labneh into small walnut-sized balls and gently place them into a mason jar with fresh herbs. I like to use violetta basil, but you can use any herbs that suit your preference. Cover them with oil. I have read that labneh can be stored this way at room temperature, but I store labneh in the refrigerator.
- Store your whey for later use.