Labneh, breakfast of champions.
Wherever people raise animals for milk – cows, sheep, goats, and camels too – they save the surplus by fermenting it. And that’s how cheese began. Like labneh, a rural Middle Eastern cheese.
In ancient times, someone discovered how to make yogurt. Then someone else, let’s say a shepherd’s wife looking at a bucket full of yogurt and wondering what to do with it – took it a step further. She strained the yogurt through, let’s say, one of her husband’s old (but hopefully clean) shirts, until most of the whey drained away, resulted in a thick, creamy, semi-solid cheese with a spreadable consistency and a lively tang.
In Israel today, you can pick up a plastic container of labneh in every supermarket and corner grocery store. But home-made is so much tastier, and you can easily make your own. Supermarket yogurt of any kind works fine. The higher the fat content of the yogurt, the creamier the labneh, naturally, but I’ve made good labneh from 3% milk yogurt too.
You can strain your yogurt through cheesecloth, coffee filters, a new, washed cloth diaper or a clean kitchen towel. Any clean, closely-woven cloth will do.
I’ve used all kinds of fabric for straining, but my favorite for years was a cloth diaper dedicated to the task. Even a new knee-high stocking, well washed with dish soap to take the factory odor off, has done service to labneh in my kitchen. That’s the hardest part of the whole business, finding something to strain with.
Then making your own labneh goes on to become ridiculously easy. Just blend it with salt, set it to drain, and wait.
You can spoon your labneh into a container with a tight cover, and serve as a spread or dip. But my favorite way of keeping labneh is to roll it into balls, cover it with good olive oil, add garlic and herbs, and wait at least a couple of hours before serving.
The way to roll labneh into balls is by first greasing the palms with olive oil. Then take two tablespoons’ weight of labneh (more or less, I’m not fussy about the exact size), and roll it between your oily palms to make a ball.
Many like their labneh plain, served for breakfast with pita and with freshly cut vegetables like cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers and olives. Myself, I enjoy labneh marinated with garlic and herbs, and happily eat it pretty much anytime. The recipe below includes those optional seasonings.