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).
- Set a sieve above your bowl. Fold a cheesecloth into quarters and set it inside a sieve.
- In a large mixing bowl, stir the yogurt and salt together. Pour the yogurt and salt mixture into the sieve lined with cheesecloth. Allow the yogurt to drain freely about 15 minute or until the whey stops flowing freely and begins to drip.
- 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 cheesecloth together with cooking twine or bind it with a rubber band and hang it from a hook or faucet over a bowl to catch the dripping whey.
- Hang your yogurt for at least 12 hours and up to 24 for a very thick yogurt cheese. The longer you hang the yogurt, the thicker your labneh will be.
- After hanging, remove the labneh from the hook and gently take off the cheesecloth. You’ll find that the yogurt is smooth and thick like cream cheese.
- Take two tablespoons of the labneh and roll into into your hands to form a ball. Place these balls in a jar, add the rosemary and cover them with olive oil. Store in the fridge up to 4 weeks.