Thursday, April 22, 2010

Dirty Little Secrets...

Labneh, also known as labni, lebni, kefir cheese, and a few other names, is a soft cheese made from yogurt. It is hugely popular in The Middle East and is originally from Lebanon. Labneh is nothing more than yogurt that has been strained, and the excess liquid (whey) removed. The longer it is hung to strain, the thicker the cheese. It is traditionally made with goat’s milk, or even sheep’s milk, but the more popular it becomes the more variations there seem to be. In The Middle East, labneh is served as a condiment, mostly for dipping and spreading on breads. It is most commonly served in a small bowl with a well of extra virgin olive oil in the middle, and sprinkled with fresh herbs, such as mint. If hung for extra long, the labneh can be rolled into balls and preserved in olive oil. This cheese is smooth and creamy, with a tangy, fresh flavor. While it is mostly eaten as part of a savory meal, it can be used as a sweet also, with honey, raisins, walnuts, etc. Labneh is light, refreshing, and a perfect ingredient for a budget traveler to make a meal of! Labneh is not only delicious and addictive but, like other cultured dairy foods, it can also be beneficial to your health. It is rich in Probiotics (good bacteria), which help keep your immune system strong, and is a good source of calcium, protein, and vitamins. Labneh is becoming more and more popular all over the world, and can now be found in many restaurants and grocery stores. However, it’s probably easier and more budget-friendly to just make it yourself! Experiment with your favorite yogurt, or follow the directions below. Enjoy!

Equipment Needed for Preparing Labneh:

Cheesecloth or Butter Muslin

A strainer or fine mesh sieve

A bowl on which to rest your sieve

A large, thick rubber band (optional)

A hook (optional)

Labneh Ingredients

1 Quart to 1/2 Gallon of Fresh Yogurt

1/2 Teaspoon Unrefined Salt per quart of yogurt

Extra Virgin Unrefined Olive Oil (optional)

Herbs (optional)

Labneh 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. 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.

5. 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.

6. Tie the package together with a rubber band and hang it from a hook, placing your bowl beneath to catch any dripping whey. 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.

7. Hang your yogurt for at least 12 hours and preferably 18 – 24. The longer you hang the yogurt, the thicker your labneh will be.

8. 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.

You can store the yogurt in small mason jars in the refrigerator or store them in olive oil with herbs.

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.

Store your whey for later use:

Remember: Preparing labneh at home leaves you with ample whey, which is strained away from the semi-solid cheese. This whey is similarly rich in beneficial bacteria and as such is slightly acidic. Don’t throw it away; the thin faintly green-looking liquid is quite valuable. You can use it to soak grains to render them more digestible, in bread baking, as a starter for fermented foods and in smoothies for extra protein and probiotics. Whey should keep, refrigerated, for up to six months. We usually use ours within two weeks.

*Photo from

*Recipe from

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