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So by now we all know that milk (after a little cooking and straining) becomes yogurt, and strained yogurt becomes Greek yogurt, but if you keep straining for a little longer, you get yogurt cheese. Think fat-free cream cheese, except without weird ingredients like structuring proteins, and you can make it at home. I have no problem with chemicals, but I am a fan of simplicity, and if I can eat the same thing with less stuff in it, I’d rather.

So as it turns out yogurt cheese is called different things in different places. This foodstuff came to my attention at a Middle-Eastern restaurant where it was called “labneh,” alternately spelled “labaneh,” its Lebanese name. Indians call it “dahi,” and for some reason Wikipedia seems to think it’s the same thing as Greek yogurt. Since I do operate under the assumption that Wikipedia knows better than I, so I’m guessing that Greek yogurt is technically a particularly loosely-textured yogurt cheese. Given its recent commercialization, I will refer to Greek yogurt as the stuff you get in the store and yogurt cheese as the stuff with a texture like cream cheese.

At this point, I can’t imagine I’m spoiling anything by pointing out that this post could be alternately titled “how to make labaneh,” “how to make labneh,” “how to make dahi,” or “how to make yoghurt cheese.”

For the last few weeks I’ve been experimenting on how to get this right. Since yogurt is cheaper to get in large quantities, I’d been straining it extensively, if effort put into leaving something there for awhile can accurately be described as “extensive.” Seemed easiest to do it with a strainer.

Extensive leaving-it-there-for-awhile.

And uh, I ended up with Greek yogurt. With a strange sort of texture.

Greek yogurt that was supposed to be labneh.

I tried a few variations on this: in the fridge and on the counter, each checked every 12 hours or so and I never really got any further than Greek yogurt (for the record, on the counter is quicker). Which is all well and good, except that I can buy Greek yogurt at the store, and the quality is better, and given the yield per cup of yogurt, it costs about the same too, so as far as I’m concerned there’s no convincing argument to make Greek yogurt at home, other than maybe to try it out and get some indie cred from your more-tattooed friends.

And besides, I wanted labneh, which I can’t buy at the store, and wtf is up with the yogurt that refuses to cooperate? The entire internet agreed it only takes 24 hours to make this shit!

Just then, a little piece of my childhood reached out with a warm, knowing smile.

Stonyfield Farm's Oikos.

Alright, I lied, it was an email from someone I’ve never met who may have been smiling, but I wouldn’t know. What I do know, however, is that she works for Stonyfield Farm. I grew up going on field trips to Stonyfield Farm, as their headquarters are situated a few towns over from my hometown. I’m pretty sure that their organic yogurt was the first time I’d ever even seen the word “organic” on a foodstuff, because that trend took a little while to make it to New Hampshire. These people are trendsetters.

So Stonyfield wants to create some food blog buzz about their new organic, fat free, low cal, totally delicious Greek yogurt, affectionately called “Oikos” by sending along some “get it free” coupons. I was happy to accommodate for a few reasons. Excellent opportunity for a list.

  1. Food blog perks. Yay!
  2. What a convenient coincidence, I have been buying lots of yogurt lately for this labneh thing and could use the discount.
  3. I’m definitely not an organic foodie, but I am a HUGE proponent of buying local. Stonyfield Farm is a scant 50 miles from my home, which in food-source terms is my backyard.
  4. I figured out some food science.

So what do you do with Greek yogurt, other than just substitute it for regular yogurt in stuff? Well, there’s the boring but tasty “stir in some vanilla and honey” thing.

Yogurt + honey.

But I wouldn’t really call that a recipe. So I strained it, figuring that starting out at the Greek yogurt stage would cut my work in half and I could do a little product placement and maybe it would even work this time.

Making labneh.

This reminds me of the stork’s creepy baby-in-a-bag thing! I do this at room temperature because it seems to work more quickly and because it’s kind of a pain in the ass to work around a big bowl in my fridge. And I mean, we’re effectively just breeding bacteria here anyway, so this method doesn’t make me all that squeamish.

After just an overnight stint in the suggestive sling *ahem* I awoke to sheer delight. LABNEH! My quest, it was ended.

Results!

A perfect cream cheese texture . . . smooth, none of the weird pebbliness of previous attempts. I refused to believe this was just because organic is better, and compared Stonyfield’s ingredient list to that of other fat free yogurts. Turns out that Stonyfield has only milk + bacteria, whereas the other three cartons I examined included pectin or milk solids as thickeners. Now in terms of eating yogurt straight up, I don’t care if it’s thick because of milk solids or gelatin or inferior bacteria, but for my purposes here, Stonyfield worked out pretty well.

So here’s what you came for:

How to Make Yogurt Cheese

1 5.3 oz cup Greek yogurt (ingredients should be just milk + bacteria—no milk solids, pectin nor gelatin allowed!)
1 pinch salt
a piece of cheesecloth or muslin or even a very strong paper towel if you are daring
some place to suspend a leaky bag of yogurt overnight

Mix the yogurt & salt, make a bag out of the cheesecloth, then suspend it at room temperature for 8-12 hours with a bowl underneath to collect the whey as it drains off.

That’s pretty much it. Notes:

  • I use a rubber band to hang the parcel from a cabinet knob.
  • You can try this in the fridge, it will take a little bit longer.
  • And you can use regular yogurt too, but it too will take longer. Regular, non-Greek yogurt will yield about 1/3 c for every cup you use.
  • 3.5 oz of Stonyfield Farm Oikos yielded about 1/3 c yogurt cheese as well. Amount will vary depending on how long you strain and what brand of Greek yogurt you use.

Serve in one of the manners below.

Traditional labneh.

Traditional Labneh
like how I had it at that restaurant that time

Spread some of the yogurt cheese on a plate, drizzle some olive oil atop, serve with any combination of the following: pita, olives, tomatoes, chickpeas, cucumbers, hummus, bruised mint, sprinkles of other herbs or spices. Simple but the best application I’ve found to date.

Jalapeno yogurt cheese!

Jalapeno Yogurt Cream Cheese

1/3 c yogurt cheese (this recipe also works just fine for cream cheese if you omit the olive oil)
a drop or two of olive oil (brings out flavour)
pinch garlic powder
1/4 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced

Mix. Let mingle in fridge for a good while. Overnight would be ideal. Serve. Let me know if you try this one, I think it could use some work, but the idea is solid.

Imitation cherry cheesecake.
Cheaty-Pants Light Cherry Cheesecake Bites
makes just a few—eat alone or share with 1 other friend

1/3 c yogurt cheese
2-3 graham crackers (before you snap at perforation)
2 tsp sugar
2 drops vanilla extract
frozen cherries, thawed

Mix the yogurt cheese with the sugar and vanilla. Okay, NOW snap the graham crackers at the perforation, then slice each baby rectangle in half to make little squares. Spread a little cheesecake mixture onto each square, then top with a cherry and a little extra sprinkle of sugar. The graham crackers will get soggy very quickly, so these are not make-ahead nor party friendly. Think of it as a special private little treat to enjoy as you make them.

The end.

  1. Pearl Said,

    your cheaty-pants are so adorable. i might just have to cheat and steal that idea from you ;)

  2. Sarah Said,

    Q- did you use 2% or 0% Greek yogurt?

  3. Joey Said,

    Mmm, that bagel makes a night with sheer worth it (and I’m usually just a cotton man).

  4. anna Said,

    Huh, that looks good. I’ve been eating Greek yogurt for breakfast a lot lately (with marmalade and raw oats in it, YUM) and generally buy whichever brand is cheaper. Just noticed the other day that Oikos was made by Stonyfield Farm. Their yogurts are always great. I’ll have to try making this stuff sometime.

  5. Apollo Said,

    Huzzah food blog perks! Many more to come, I’m sure.

  6. Wolf Said,

    I am so looking for the Oikos yogurt when I go grocery shopping this week. This looks fun!

  7. Coriander Said,

    Oooh, this is so exciting! I’ve been wanting to do this myself, but felt so overwhelmed, and here you have done a lot of research for us!

    Your recipes look so tasty. I love love love Stonyfield Farms… mostly I eat their soy yogurt, which is the best tasting soy yogurt, imho.

    Anyway, love your blog, love your pictures! I always look forward to reading Omnomicon!

  8. stephchows Said,

    It is so cool that you lived so close to the farm!! And I’m totally excited they sent you some to play around with too!! Too fun :)

  9. Amanda Said,

    Mmm I’ve always wanted to try making yogurt cheese, perhaps this will give me the incentive to!

  10. Adron Said,

    Wow, it never fails that when I visit your site, I always have to run to the local market and pick up SOMETHING to try :)

    You rock, your recipes are witty and delightful and please keep them coming!

  11. Kevin Said,

    I don’t think that I have ever had yogurt cheese but extra thick and creamy yogurt sounds good.

  12. Erin Said,

    Thanks for this great post! My Lebanese grandmother made a thing she called labneh–it was more like yogurt than cream cheese. Mystery!

  13. Half Assed Kitchen Said,

    If only I weren’t so lazy…this looks delish.

  14. Andrea Said,

    First post, love the site. Last thursday, in the NYTimes food section, there was a great article on how to make your own yogurt. It gave great advice on which yogurts to start with to make the best yogurt. Wanted to give you a heads up in case you didn’t see it. :)
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/15/dining/15curi.html?ref=dining

  15. Lindsay Said,

    Aleta… hey keep it up! Just came across your blog a few days ago and I’ve already made your rainbow cake (much to the delight of my dude-friends..). Can’t wait to give labneh a try ASAP…

    you rule…

    -Lindsay

  16. Jennifer Said,

    After the butter earlier today I gave this a whirl. I ended up having to do some hand squeezing (I suspect it’s because I forgot that damn pinch of salt). I stirred in a little honey, and I think I may spread it on my remaining bagel for a midnight snack tonight. :D

  17. Julie Said,

    Lebni (is how I know it) or kefir cheese is available in stores. I am located in rural Washington state and am able to buy it in my local co-op. The one I buy is from Cascade Fresh, a Seattle company (http://www.cascadefresh.com/spec_medi.html) as Mediterranean-Style Yogurt. I have also bought it at a large specialty market but I can’t remember the brand. My aunt, who is Israeli, turned me onto it a few years ago and I tracked it down because I love it.

    Not knocking making your own, just to let you know.

    Here is a link to some other brands, http://tinyurl.com/ctclk5.

  18. Allegria Said,

    I have to say that the photos of this page are great and you have a very good style in the writting, its very amusing and recipes are so great that i will hate my self if i dont get a meal like the one in the photo! :) sorry for my english, ja!

  19. Caroline Said,

    There is also an all natural Greek Strained Yogurt that I buy called FAGE (pronounced: Fa-Yeh). You can get it in regular, 2%, or Total 0% Fat. It is the ultimate in creamy. I buy it at Trader Joes, Whole Foods, and a local speciality market near my home. Great stuff, makes a great base for homemade yogurt, and is great for yogurt cheese.

  20. Amy Said,

    Oooo!! YUMMY!

  21. Pattie Said,

    Stoneyfield Oikos Greek yogourt is simply the very best yogourt I have ever tasted. I make my own yogourt using organic 2% milk and a cup of Stoney’s yogourt. We add berries and walnut meats. SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO good. I am going to try making the yogurt cheese after I make a batch of homemade yogourt!!!

  22. Omnomicon makes » daily nom #18 Said,

    [...] I do most of my pictures with white backgrounds on white plates, mostly because I’m just plain not good at colour-matching. But I am actively trying to add to my plate repertoire, and what do you know, this 50-cent Goodwill find worked out perfectly to showcase this jalapeno cream cheese. [...]

  23. yex Said,

    Yes! I had been trying to make Tzaziki (I probably didn’t spell that right) for ages using regular yogurt and failing miserably. A few days in the fridge always turned it into soup no matter how long I drained it beforehand. After reading this, I tried it with Greek yogurt instead and got the lovely textured (and delicious!) version I had been hoping for…and it keeps its texture in the fridge. I used a coffee filter in a strainer on the counter overnight…worked splendidly. Thanks! :D

  24. Steve Said,

    Hi there – just wanted to comment on this. I made this for my wife and I, and it was fantastic! She couldn’t believe making cheese was this easy. We’ll be sure to have a steady supply of Greek yogurt on hand to make this.

    And the best thing about it? FAT FREE!

  25. Janie Said,

    If only I had read this BEFORE I started my own experiment. My dad (he’s Lebanese) gave me a recipe whereby you start with milk but add the greek yogurt as a culture if you don’t have a starter. I think perhaps I did not use enough of the starter – perhaps because I ate most of it! anyway, mine looks like yogurt, not cheese, tastes great, but it’s not what it’s supposed to look like. amusing post!

  26. Greek yogurt instead of ice cream - Diet and Weight Loss -Weight management - City-Data Forum Said,

    [...] [...]

  27. julie Said,

    How many layers of cheescloth?

  28. julie Said,

    Dannon.com says if there’s gelatin in the yogurt, it will keep the whey from seperating. Guess that’s why your (and my) earlier attempts failed. I really thought the full fat yogurt from Cabot would make great cheese, but nothing really happened. Guess I’ll have to go to the Oikos fat-free stuff. Should have believed you in the first place.

  29. Darcy Said,

    Amazing article and insight! I have been reviewing alot of other websites for authentic Greek yogurt recipes. This is the best and most complete summary I’ve seen and I absolutely love the Labneh recipe. Convnience and cost savings aside, a few years ago I tried truly homemade yogurt on a small country farm (B&B) in France, and I’ve enjoyed a variety of farm fresh homemade cheeses in other parts of the world… homemade beats anything I’ve been able to buy and though perfecting the process takes practice, its part of the fun! Thanks for sharing

  30. irem Said,

    bencede siz ne derseniz o :P (sizin yazdıklarınızı okumadım)

  31. Meredith Said,

    I love lebnae! I was fortunate enough to spend lots of time with a wonderful Lebanese family e who have changed my way of eating for good. I actually go to a Middle eastern market and they always have it in the refrigerated section. Not as cool as you making it, but it is amazing. I love it with the giant KING pita (split it in half and the best thin pitas ever!) and rolled up like a taquito! Anyway, hope you can fing it.

  32. Kayti Sullivan Said,

    Yogurt cheese when combined w/chopped garlic and stuffed into a hollowed out jalapeño pepper and then roast the whole thing over an open flame is amazing

  33. Ellie Said,

    I make Labne by the gallon. Everyone in my family loves it. Try adding several cloves of minced garlic, dried parslely and extra virgin olive oil. YUMM! Of course, I make fresh yogurt too. It’s really so easy and tastes so much better. Save a quarter of a cup for starter and you can always have fresh yogurt in 6 to 8 hours – cheaper too than buying one container at a time from the market.

  34. heartlandroad Said,

    Like the article! I just made yoghurt cheese for the first time – my Mum got me into making yoghurt ages ago, and has been telling me I need to try making yoghurt cheese, but it was only once I came across labneh balls – where you flavour it with herbs, roll it into balls and store it in olive oil – that I got excited enough to try it. I had no trouble straining it, but I was using home made yoghurt, so no thickeners – I think you’re right about that, the thickeners will tend to stop it separating.

    I also was using a recipe which said to add salt – 1 teaspoon per 1 kg yoghurt – before you strain it. It said this draws the moisture out, and it certainly drained nicely just overnight. Next time I will try straining at room temperature, as I would like a thicker texture, and room temp should allow the cultures to keep working while it strains.

    I have no idea how old this article is, so if I am posting back into the mists of time, sorry. I’m from the future. We still eat cheese here.

  35. kittyt Said,

    That lumpy, grainy texture when you tried to make the yogurt yourself? That means you had the incubation temperature too hot.

  36. Pauline Said,

    Thanks for sharing! When you say mix in the Jalapeño recipe, do you mean by hand or blend? I was tempted to blend but feared the cheese would lose its texture.

  37. Carole Said,

    Eurocuisine makes a yogurt maker for about $50 that makes the most wonderful yogurt. I use a half gallon of fat free organic milk, 1 cup of powdered milk and 1/2 cup of Oikos plain fat free Greek yogurt. Heat the milk and powdered milk to 180′, cool to 110′ mix it with the Oikos, and put it in the yogurt maker. set it and forget it for 8-10 hours. Then refrigerate it for 8 hours. For some reason, it sets better after refrigerating. Sometimes I strain it a bit after it’s done but usually not. When I have any left after a few days, then I strain it to make yogurt cheese. This stuff is wonderful.

  38. joe Said,

    Way ahead of u in the first step, thanks to my wife who’s very gd at this stuff. ( when I told her I was going to learn how to make cheese she told me how). But can’t I imress my wife and take this yogurt cheese further and make more different kinds. I was picturing getting some renit, mixing it in and putting it in a clothe under a brick, and then selling my recipe for millions.

  39. 212xenu Said,

    You are not breeding bacteria while straining the yogurt- that was done before it got to you, if using commercial yogurt, and the bacterial activity ceases when it is chilled. If your house is cool-ish, I am sure your counter top is fine, but a warm and steamy environment would be an invition to breed bad bacteria and a doomsday derby in your gut!

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