I was hesitant to attend when I found out it was a form of cheese making. But... I went anyway, and let me just say, it was a wonderful 45 minutes of time well spent.
First of all, Lady Najat and I really haven't had much in the way of long conversations, nothing against her, mind you, but we walk in different circles. Last night, I discovered we both were addicted to Iron Chef, both loved to cook, and interesting is a lot of the pragmatic parts of cooking. It really was a fun conversation to have with her, and it might (maybe) be enough to pull me out to the cooking guild or something of that ink.
But other than that... the reason for my post is to point some well earned attention to her class. I don't know that she typed this up on 45 minutes notice, but she pulled the class off on it, and it was a great little meeting in its own right.
Below are her notes as she presented them to me.
Labneh : Straining To Make Cheese?by Lady Najat bint AygölgesiWhat is Labneh?Labneh is the Turkish term to refer to the product when yogurt is strained of the extra liquid to make a thicker, more cheese like food product that is easier to keep for longer periods of time (up to three weeks!). The end product is similar in consistency to cream cheese while maintaining a tangy flavor similar to the original plain yogurt.
It is hard to pinpoint when humans started straining yogurt to created strained yogurt cheese, but not unreasonable to suggest that it has been around as long as the first silly person tried to store yogurt in cloth one day. It is a traditional food of the Middle East and South Asia and is known by many names, from labaneh to dehi to chaka depending on the cultural origination and types of milk that it is made from.
The flavor and consistency of the strained yogurt cheese is dependent on the milk originally used. As camel and water buffalo milk yogurt is not readily available in the United States we will be experiencing the more mildly flavored cow milk yogurt’s flavor instead.
How does one make Labneh?Labneh is created by straining plain yogurt until it creates a thick cheese like substance to work with. Things you will need for this project include a strainer, a bowl, yogurt, a twist tie or some string, and the material to strain the yogurt with. The straining material can be cheesecloth or a very thin dishcloth or even a couple layers of coffee filter, it just needs to be a material that will allow extra liquid to drain off rather than sticking to the rest of the yogurt.
These materials will give you the general set up for straining the cheese in your fridge. The bowl will help by collecting the drained off whey (which can then be used in other recopies!). Set the strainer into the bowl and make sure it will set there nicely. Then lay down a layer or two of your filtering materials.
Into your cloth or filter scoop out how much plain yogurt you want to strain. A general rule is that you put four times as much yogurt as you want labneh, as this is about how much it will reduce during the straining process.
After placing the amount that you want into your straining material gather up the edges of the cloth and tie together somewhat tightly in the middle, just so that it stays encased in the filter. Then place this onto the strainer into the bowl into the fridge.
Once about two hours has passed you should notice the whey beginning to form in the bottom of the bowl. If there looks to be anything thicker making it through the straining material it’s a good idea to add layers so that you are keeping that intact and just losing the whey.
At the four to six hour mark I find that I usually have a substance with similar consistency to the “greek” yogurt you will find available at the local grocery store. That’s right, now you know the secret to making greek yogurt for half the price! Woohoo!
But back to the Labneh…
After about twelve hours the cheese has come to a consistency that you can enjoy, but can still be strained further for whatever desired consistency.
What can it be used for?Tzatziki SauceMix a cup of your yogurt cheese with a pound of minced cucumbers, three tablespoons olive oil, a tablespoon minced mint or dill, a clove of minced garlic, and salt and lemon juice to taste
Herbed Cheese BallsStrain cheese until it can be formed into balls. Mix desired spices (my favorite include mint, cumin, cardamom, and garlic) with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Roll the cheese balls into the spice mixture to then be spread on pita, naan, or any other flatbread of your choice.
As an additional ingredientBecause of labneh’s high fat content it can be added to a variety of dishes to make the sauce more creamy and thick without curdling at the high cooking temperatures.
Impressing people in campThis entire cheese making process can be done overnight, outside, in camp. You can simply tie some yogurt up in a cheesecloth and hang it somewhere, either over a bowl or just over some place no one will mind it draining onto, and wake up to a delicacy. This is usually suggested for nights that are somewhere between 40F and 70F so that it comes out alright.
Lord Ivo Blackhawk
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"God save the King!"