Make your own cream cheese

It started with toilet paper. Then sofas. And now its cream cheese. Is there nothing these supply chain issues won't spare us? Luckily, with a few simple ingredients you probably already have in your fridge, we'll show you how to make your very own Mediterranean style cream cheese known as labneh (or leben, labnhi, or a range of other names, depending on where you eat it). It's so delicious and versatile, you just might never go back.

[Image: Mediterranean style cream cheese, called labneh, garnished with olive oil, coarse sea salt, herbs, and a drizzle of olive oil.]


From Tel Aviv to Thasos, from Beirut to Baghdad, labneh is a staple that offers a tangier flavor with more depth than your traditional cream cheese. It requires just two main ingredients, but the more the merrier. You can always dress this dip up with spices and a range of add-ons.


If you take a look at it, labneh is really just strained yogurt, known in the US as Greek yogurt. But while you might pile berries on top of your morning FAGE, labneh is typically eaten more like a spread.


And while the thick consistency of these strained yogurts may convince you that they're packed with fat (not that there's anything wrong with that), they are actually thickened using other techniques, such as whey removal (where the water is strained off), or added ingredients like protein, milk powder, or thickening gums. You can use a range of different techniques to thicken your yogurt, but we'll show you our favorite: subtraction, rather than addition.


Recipe for homemade labneh

This recipe requires just two ingredients, but you can add a range of delicious things to take your labneh to the next level.

Time: 24-48 hours


Ingredients

  • Yogurt

  • Sea salt

You'll need:

Cheese cloth, two bowls.


Optional things to add:

  • Freshly chopped parsley, chives, cilantro, or basil

  • Grated garlic or roasted garlic

  • Zaatar (hyssop)

  • Olive oil

  • Chilies

  • Grated tomatoes

Instructions

  1. First, take your yogurt and pour it in a bowl. We like to start with plain Greek yogurt (our favorite is FAGE 5% but the grocery store brand is good too!). Picking a higher fat content gives a slightly richer flavor, and the fat holds onto the flavors you're going to add. Keep in mind that you can also start with regular yogurt, but since the water content is typically higher, it will take longer and you'll have a little less volume in your final product.

  2. Next, add sea salt to taste. Flavored salts and plain old table salt work well too.

  3. Now, layer your cheese cloth across another bowl and transfer your yogurt mixture into the cheese cloth. Then gather the edges and suspend above the bowl. You can hang it from the kitchen sink or even leave it sitting in a strainer over a pot. The idea is to let it drip all the water out of the yogurt leaving only the solids.

  4. Depending on which type of yogurt you started with and which consistency you're going for, leave it to drip for 24-48 hours. The longer you leave it, the thicker the product. It can survive happily on the counter for 24 hours and even longer, but we usually pop it in the fridge if we leave it past one day.

  5. Once your yogurt has drained completely, remove it from the cheese cloth and put it in a bowl. Use a spoon to spread it out in a low-walled dish and add your garnish. Our favorites are chopped roasted poblanos and grated tomatoes followed by olive oil, but you can be creative. Spread it on a bagel or use it as a dip for crackers.



Some helpful tips: You can use any form of cheesecloth you find, just make sure to double it up so the cheese doesn't leak through and only the water gets out. If you see cheese leaking through, add another layer or two. You can even use a clean kitchen towel. From our experience, they can't be used again, though (we tried tossing them in the washing machine but they stayed cheesy).


Tried it? Loved it? Share! Tag us on Instagram @metuka.freshlybaked and show us your beautiful creation. We're here for it.




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