I love cheese. Show me a groaning cheeseboard, it’s hard to resist the urge to pick, pick, pick. Cheddar, Stilton, Wensleydale, Manchego, Comté (darn, that Comté!), Brie…you name it, I love it.
What I have not really done much of is trying to make my own cheese. I’ve followed the posts on Pease Pudding with interest, but frankly the realities of living in the middle of a very large city makes getting hold of the right sort of milk rather challenging. Keeping a dairy herd out back is rather impractical, and I’m not sure the woman downstairs would be trilled to find a couple of Frisian cows munching on the recently-planted birch trees or peering into her kitchen in the morning. That, and I can get hold of just about anything in London if I really need to (although yuzu fruit and edible frankincense oil have managed – thus far – to escape me).
However, there is one option which is both relatively quick and very easy. This little miracle is called labneh (which you may also see spelled labni, lebni or labne) which is essentially strained yoghurt. OK, I realise that doesn’t sound too appealing! But what you do is allow most of the liquid to drain off, which leaves behind a very thick yoghurt, something like cream cheese. This can be made with low-fat yoghurt if you’re looking for a healthier version, and I think it is particularly good if you use goat milk yoghurt.
The method here is simplicity itself – pour all the yoghurt into a bowl, add salt, mix well and then strain through a cloth. Then leave it for a day and you’ve got the labneh. 24 hours is the minimum you should leave it, but if you can manage longer (up to 48) then so much the better. You might prefer to use a (very clean!) tea-towel rather than a piece of cheesecloth, as I learned from experience that if the cloth weave is not sufficiently fine, the yoghurt just pours straight through. The sort of messy mistake you make only once!
As cheeses go, this is (or should be) relatively low-fat – I used low-fat yoghurt in my version, so the resulting cheese is rich and creamy, but not oily in any way. Of course, all that is undermined by adding a little olive oil for serving…but I think the combination of the thick, creamy labneh with olive oil works very well.
Once made, there are a few ways to store and eat it. Either roll into balls and store in a jar of olive oil, or use to fill dishes, add a drizzle of olive oil, some lemon zest and salt, pepper and toasted nuts for a delicious dip. You might even prefer to use some dukkah mixture to add another layer of Middle Eastern flavour. Alternatively, spread on toasted bread and add a drizzle of honey for breakfast.
To make labneh:
• Large pot (450g) natural yoghurt
• Large pot (450g) goat milk yoghurt
• 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
In a large bowl, combine the yoghurt and stir well to incorporate the salt.
Line another bowl with a clean tea-towel (it should come over the edges).
Pour in the yogurt mixture, then gather the edges of the cloth and tie in a bunch. Hang the cloth above the bowl, and leave for at least 24 hours to drain (best to start first thing on a Friday morning, then by Saturday evening it’s done). When you return, there should be clear liquid in bowl. If you can leave it longer (up to 48 hours) so much the better.
When ready, open the cloth. The outside of the yoghurt will be firm, although the inside may be a little soft. Mix everything together until smooth, and then either form into balls and store in oil, or use as a dip or spread with bread.
Worth making? This is a fun, easy way to make cheese at home, and really worth trying. It’s delicious on sourdough toast with honey.