If you're capable of mixing salt and yogurt in a bowl, then guess what.....you're capable of making cheese! It can be that easy to create fresh cheese at home, no rennet or humidity-controlled caves required. All you really need is a little patience.
This magically easy-to-make food we're speaking of is labneh, a cheese typically found in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Israel made simply by straining the whey from yogurt. This classic and versatile mezze is usually eaten with soft flatbreads, in sandwiches (its texture is similar to that of cream cheese), or as a finger food if rolled into balls and marinated in olive oil, as we'll do with the recipe below!
The version we've used comes from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi of London's Ottolenghi and NOPI restaurants. The team originally hail from Israel and Palestine, and have blended the culinary traditions of their respective homelands with ingredients of the world to create a genre all their own. In their first cookbook, Ottolenghi, they offer a traditional labneh recipe that's used unconcentionally in many of their dishes (think 'Roasted Rhubarb with Sweet Labneh'). You can get creative too; roll the balls in spices like sumac or za'atar (two of our favourites - they're both available in the delicatessen), use labneh in salads, with grilled vegetables and baked eggs, or even on pizza. If you can find yourself some yogurt, salt, cheesecloth, and 48 hours, the sky's the limit.
Here's Ottolenghi's recipe, and we'll check back again in a few days when ours is (literally) ready to roll!
1 litre natural goat's milk yogurt (or full-fat cow's milk yogurt)
3/4 teaspoon salt
200-300ml olive oil
pinch dried mint
1. Line a large bowl with cheesecloth (folded in half to make stronger). In another bowl, mix the yogurt and salt together well. Transfer the yogurt to the cheesecloth, pick up the edges of the cloth and tie them together to form a strong bundle. Hang this over your sink or a large bowl and leave for 48 hours.* By this time the yogurt will have lost most of its liquid and is ready to use as a spread.
2. To go further, leave it hanging for a day longer. Remove the labneh from the cloth and place in a sealed container in the fridge. Once it is thoroughly chilled, preferably after 24 hours, roll the cheese into balls, somewhere between the size of an olive and a walnut.
3. Take a sterilized jar** about 600ml in capacity. Pour some of the olive oil inside and gently lay the balls in the oil. Add some more oil and continue with the balls until all the cheese is inside and immersed in the oil. Seal the jar and keep until needed.
4. Before serving, scatter the mint and pepper on a flat plate and roll the labneh balls in it.
*We'd suggest hanging it in the fridge to keep it colder, but it's up to you.
**To sterilize your jar, fill it up with boiling water, leave it for a minute, then empty it. Allow it to dry naturally without wiping so it remains sterilized.
Making Labneh: Part II coming soon!