Labneh or Yogurt Cheese

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 neufchâtel 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).

my labneh recipe

By Jenny Published: October 1, 2009

    Each quart of yogurt will produce about 6 ounces of labneh, give or take, plus plenty of whey to use in other recipes.

    Ingredients

    • 1/4 to 1/2 gallon Fresh Yogurt
    • 1/2 tsp Unrefined Salt per quart of yogurt
    • Extra Virgin Unrefined Olive Oil
    • Herbs (optional ingredient)

    Instructions

    1. Set your sieve above your bowl.
    2. Fold the cheesecloth into quarters and set it inside the sieve.
    3. Mix yogurt with unrefined sea salt.
    4. Pour the yogurt and salt mixture into the sieve lined with cheesecloth.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. Tie the package together with a rubberband and hang it from a hook, placing your bowl beneath to catch any dripping whey.
    8. 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.
    9. Hang your yogurt for at least 12 hours and preferably 18 – 24. The longer you hang the yogurt, the thicker your labneh will be.
    10. 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.
    11. You can store the yogurt in small mason jars in the refrigerator or store them in olive oil with herbs.
    12. 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.
    13. Store your whey for later use.

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    What people are saying

    1. Wardeh @ gnowfglins.com says

      Hi, Jenny! I too am happy that you referred to the Motsoni culture as being particularly suited to lebneh. I haven’t yet got in the habit of making my own raw yogurt – I tend to do kefir and kefir cheese, as the culturing requires less steps.

      I was also going to point out, as Nicole did, that leban is the yogurt and lebani is the cheese. :) Lebani is my absolute favorite food, and growing up we had it all the time. My mom always kept us in supply, which speaks highly of her, as she worked hard to provide my dad with his traditional heritage foods (he’s Arabic). So of course I and my siblings learned to love it from an early age!

      The photo of the lebani balls in olive oil is beautiful. My Arabic aunts would always keep huge jars of these packed in olive oil. They were too big for the fridge, so I imagine they kept them in cool storage. But I don’t know for sure.

      • christin says

        Oh and I forgot to ask…can we use raw milk yogurt to make this? And can tell me about the culture you are guys are speaking of? Thanks!

    2. Nicole D says

      This is bit pedantic I guess, but leban and lebneh are not precisely the same thing. At least, in my Lebanese family, we’ve always referred to leban when speaking of the yogurt and lebneh when speaking of the yogurt-cheese. (The vagueries of Arabic dialects being what they are, it’s possible other regions use them interchangeably, I guess I only really know what the Lebanese/Palestinians say.)

      Our Saturday family breakfasts include lebneh with fresh mint and olive oil, fool (a sort of porridge of fava beans and garlic with olive oil), fresh whole scallions, sliced ripe tomatoes with salt, warm pita bread, fig jam, whipped butter, Halloum and Ashawayn cheeses, and hard-boiled eggs with allspice, pepper, and salt. I’m not sure my father had much more than “yum” in mind when he set all that out, but I was a pretty healthy spread. :)

      It makes me happy that you’ve been successfully using the Motsoni culture for lebneh, since I recently bought some hoping from the description that it would suit itself to lebneh. (I haven’t found a store-bought yogurt yet that I like for lebneh.)

      • christin says

        Where does it say what kind of culture to use for the yogurt?
        @Nicole-did you pile all that on the pita bread or a bit of each in different combos? Did they make the fig jam? Did they sprinkle allspice on the eggs? Ok, one more question…how did your family make fool?
        Thanks for letting me pick your brain! =)

    3. says

      What a coincidence — I just made yogurt cheese this week to bring with my lunch. I put sea salt and herbes de Province in it and I’ve been eating it on cucumbers. Definitely going to start using it instead of cream cheese in the near future! I might use it instead of cream to make a creamy dressing for my salad next week.

    4. Jen says

      I’ve done this and mixed in honey and chopped walnuts to use as a spread for homemade bagels… YUM! I’m going to try a miso dip with some soon, and I definitely love the idea of fresh herbs and sea salt. Thanks for the idea.

    5. Kelly A. says

      My best friend in elementary school was from Iraq and her parents called the yogurt itself Laban also. We can get Lebneh in many stores here in Metro Detroit but I need to make it myself from my homemade yogurt sometime. Lovely photos.

    6. Jenny says

      Thanks guys for catching the laban mix up! From what I understand, the labneh should keep fine at room temperature since they’re acidic and the olive oil creates an anaerobic environment. I just keep mine in the fridge because that’s where I keep all my cheese – it’s easier.

      Thank you all for your comments!

    7. says

      I was just wondering if the salt effects the whey in any way. I have a jar with about 1 1/4 cup of whey already started that I use for fermenting but that is just from straining plain yogurt (no salt added to it) Is it ok to pour the salted whey from this recipe into mine or should I start a seperate jar?

    8. Jenny says

      Hi Tammy -

      I don’t believe that salt affects the action of the whey to any great degrees; that is, I’ve never had a problem using whey from salted cheese or yogurt cheese before.  I guess, as with everything, it likely depends on time, amount used and environment.

      - Jenny

    9. says

      hi there, thanks first of all to the moderator of this web page, all very usefull information
      i wanted to ask something:, i find my self in Northern India right now high in the mounantains, living with a family that supply raw fresh milk every day, yesterday i mixed a bit o what was left from the day before with the new arrival raw milk of the day…. today mornig just wake up and i found a sour creamie fat in the jar, i didn’t do any of the precesses for preparing it, i did not warm it up or anything like this i just non intentional mixed the new milk with a 1 day older milk in a jar.
      it looks good but im not sure about using it for breakfast…..what should i do, how can i test if its a safe yogurt or something similar?….. cows here feeds with super good green grass at high alttitude 2000 mts. good enviroment
      i hope i could explain it well, thanks again
      Javier

    10. Kellianne says

      Hi, I am very keen to make my own labneh! During the draining process do you keep the yogurt in the fridge or at room temperature?

    11. Shar says

      Everyone is writing about the great photos, but I see none :(
      Any help with the photos?
      have been playing with yogurt, kefir, and draining whey off of lots of stuff…..so would love to see the photos, particularly since everyone states they look so yummy !
      Thanks!!

    12. says

      This looks amazing! I can’t wait to make it myself. My dad makes this every year for his Easter basket. Which herbs taste best in labneh? I’m thinking basil or green onions and chives…

    13. Bethany says

      Hello, Jenny!

      You mentioned using mission olive oil for this recipe. Would an extra-virgin olive oil, such as Jovial, be just as suitable for this recipe?

      Thank you!

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