Labneh – Poor man’s cream cheese…or yogurt…or sour cream…basically irreplaceable goodness 

Labneh. You haven’t heard of it, you say? Not had I til only a few short months ago. But boy, I wish I had. Cuz next to finding the Lord and marrying my husband, it’s just about the biggest boost my quality of life has ever had. Perhaps I exaggerate. But then again, perhaps not. You be the judge. 

China is a wonderful place with an abundance of good foods, but it is sadly lacking in the dairy department. Cheeses and healthy yogurts and sour cream are hard to find and those that are to be found are dearly bought. One extremely simple, if a little time-consuming, culinary discovery has cut my cheese cravings in half. While it doesn’t replace cheddar and mozzarella, labneh can be used as a vey passable substitute for Greek yogurt, sour cream and cream cheese in most dishes. I’ve EVEN made cheesecake with it! (Any bids for a future post?)

If you live in the land of the free and the home of the brave – also known as the land where all the cows live – this may not be such a revolutionary discovery, but mayhaps you live in a cheese-deprived land as I do or you want a preservative-free version of one of the creamy delights abovementioned. Well then, read on. 

Now for the materials you’ll need… It’s preferable if you have a yogurt machine, but if there’s a warm place about to ferment a container of milk you can make do without. To start the yogurt you can use either a yogurt culture (as I do) or a spoonful of good Greek yogurt. To strain I use muslin, or cheese cloth, but a clean non-fuzzy towel or fine sieve should do in a pinch. 

To make the labneh (also known as yogurt cheese), stir together one liter of milk and either a spoonful of Greek yogurt or one gram of the yogurt fermenting agent inside the metal basin of the yogurt machine. Put a little water in the plastic outer tub of the machine, then place the basin in the water. The water should not reach the lip of the basin. 

Plug in the machine and leave it be for 8-12 hours. The longer you leave it, the more the solids separate from the whey. Jiggle the basin when you’re ready to take it out, just to make sure it has coagulated properly and isn’t too liquidy. Now place the cheese cloth or towel or swivel over a large bowl and let it drain. 

Just a tip, I put mine in a cheese cloth and hang it with a large clothes pin or tie it over a bowl or over the sink. It seems to drain more quickly this way and can also save on counter space! 

If you want Greek yogurt, drain it for about 2-3 hours. For sour cream, add another couple hours, and for cream cheese, make it a good 12 hours until whey has stopped dripping and it’s fairly solid. This is not “real” sour cream or cream cheese as the cultures and processes used differ, but in most cases you can substitute this yogurt cheese without anyone blinking an eye. 

Today I ate Greek yogurt I made with this method with peach slices and homemade grape nuts cereal and it made for a delishious yet healthy breakfast. I’ve also made stroganoff, the aforementioned cheesecake, cheesecake brownies and a cheese ball with Labneh and have been very happy with all the results. So get creative! Make your own dishes and share about them in the comments. I’d love to hear!

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