I was first introduced to Labneh on a trip to Baalbek in Northwest Lebanon. Having spent the morning visiting the temples there, our driver suggested stopping off at a bakery for some lunch. Along with the amazing fresh bread & tomatoes they served a delicious cream cheese, called labneh. Beautifully creamy, but with a tangy, slightly sour taste, this simple lunch was one of the meals of the holiday, & we made sure to bring some home with us.
It wasn’t until browsing through a Lebanese cookbook that I discovered just how simple it was to make – 2 ingredients (Yogurt & salt), 1 key piece of equipment (a square of muslin) & a couple of days.
Once made, it stores in the fridge in an airtight container for about a week. You can drain it for slightly longer so it firms up more, then roll into balls, coat with herbs & store in olive oil for about a month – but ours rarely lasts that long!
The labneh can be eaten on its own, mixed with herbs spread onto toast & drizzled with honey. However you chose to eat it, I’m sure you’ll love it….
The below makes a small bowl of labneh – just increase amounts proportionately if you want to make more
500ml full fat natural yogurt
1 tsp salt
2 squares of muslin /cheesecloth big enough to contain the yogurt (for these amounts, a 30cm square is plenty).
Place the yogurt & the salt together in a bowl, & mix well.
Place both squares of muslin in a sieve so they form a double thickness layer (or use a rectangle of muslin folded in 2), & put the yogurt inside.
The next step is to drain the whey from the yogurt. One method is to put the sieve inside a deep bowl (i.e. with a few cm clearance between the bottom of the sieve & the bottom of the bowl), cover & just leave to drain for 24 / 36 hours in a cool place / the fridge. Maybe it’s the quantities I’m making, but I find that this doesn’t drain enough of the whey, resulting in the final labneh being too runny for my tastes.
My preference is to gather up the corners of the muslin, twist & tie off firmly with string so that you have a ‘ball’ of yogurt held within the muslin. You then suspend this somewhere cool (more on this later!) for 24 to 36 hours.
A common suggestion for where to suspend your yogurt to drain is over your kitchen sink / bath taps. As the owner of 2 cats – this isn’t really an option, as I fear they’ll be ‘sampling’ the labneh before I do…..
My solution is to use a skewer to suspend the yogurt ball over a tall container, & leave it in the fridge. I use a kilner jar, but any container that is tall enough to suspend the yogurt a few cm from the bottom of the container will do. You’ll see from my ‘before’ & ‘after’ pictures the amount of whey that comes off the yogurt.
I recommend leaving the yogurt to drain for a minimum of 24 hours, & preferably 36. However, if you want a firmer cheese (more suited to rolling into balls & storing in olive oil, leave it draining for a day or so longer.