Labneh (or labnah/labna) - Yogurt Cheese

I wanted to share with you one of the things I made for my farm holiday last weekend, since I couldn’t have you all with me. Which is a shame because what a wonderful holiday that would have been huh? :) A bunch of food loving individuals filling their tummies and then talking incessantly about it! This way, I can at least share some of what I ate…

I put together a spread of different meze for our Greek inspired dinner, and although I’d like to share recipes for each dish, most were done based on feel and whim…so no exact quantities for now. This, however, is beyond simple to do and a great thing to have in your appetizer tray (or anywhere else for that matter). And if you love yogurt as much as I do, I’m sure you will always have extra portions with which to make this.

Labneh (or labnah/labna), also called Arab Yogurt Cheese, is plain/natural yogurt strained of its whey. The longer you strain it the thicker it will be. It is criminally simple to make…all you need is good yogurt, some salt, a cheesecloth, a strainer, and some patience. After exerting as much effort as you would to, say, take a nap or decide what top to wear, you will have a creamy “yogurt cheese” (like a light, fresh cream cheese with the yogurt’s distinct sour note) to do with as you please!

Although simple, I still perused a bunch of recipes before proceeding. I am just a little geek that way. There was one in my copy of The Arab Table by May Bsisu (nice book with great explanations and lists of Arab ingredients!) and I found two recipes from Donna Hay! Doesn’t she just think of everything? ;) One recipe comes from her book Entertaining (with lemon thyme and chili) and the other come from her magazine issue # 35*** (with oregano and black peppercorns).

It’s quite basic so I’ll just give the main guidelines (no recipe really) I used based on the different recipes and you can improvise depending on the flavors you like.

  • About 1 teaspoon salt for every 2 cups plain yogurt
  • Herbs and spices that you like
  • Olive oil

- Mix the yogurt and salt together. You can add flavor at two points – either mix in your spices/herbs with the yogurt now, or add them to the oil later.
- Line a sieve with fine muslin/cheesecloth and place over a deep bowl (you don’t want your yogurt to come in contact with the liquid that has been drained). Place the yogurt mixture into the sieve. Cover the lot and place in the fridge to drain – this can be anywhere from 6 hours to 5 days! The longer it drains the thicker it will be.
- After it has drained to the consistency you like, you can scoop them up by tablespoons and form into balls (this is what Donna does). Place balls in a jar and, if you didn’t add them to the yogurt in the beginning, toss in the herbs/spices, then cover with olive oil. Store in the fridge.
- Another way of forming the cheese (May’s method) is to press onto a plate with the back of a spoon, causing little indentations in the cheese (like how hummus is often served). Drizzle olive oil into the indentations and sprinkle za'atar or dried mint (again c/o May) all over the cheese.

You could also have this for breakfast! See the breakfast spread Barbara put together with labneh.

***It was part of a terrific feature called “a dairymaid’s tale” which included recipes on how to make your own ricotta, curd cheese, clotted cream, and yogurt! Absolutely gorgeous white-on-white-on-white food styling too!