Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Homespun Things....Make your own Labna...little Middle Eastern Cheeses.

I adore the little luxuries in life more than the big ones sometimes.

These delicate little morsels are a singular pleasure in my day. I look forward to spreading them on a rice cake or corn cake or just eating them as is. They're another wonderful little breakfast or lunch treat, that just makes the day seem special.

These are dead easy to make and once you've tried them, you'll never eat commercial cream cheeses again.

All you need is:

*1 kg of Natural Greek Yoghurt. I prefer to make my own. It's easy and inexpensive. The yoghurt ingredients are 1 2/3 cups full cream powdered milk (that is, milk powder, not made up milk), 2 tablespoons Easiyo yoghurt starter, 1 litre water. For this method, you also need the Easiyo container and thermos. I picked mine up at a thrift shop for $3. You could also just use a one litre sealable container, and any thermos or esky large enough to hold it. The method would remain the same.

*A clean muslin cloth. There are things here in Australia called Chux. They're basically an open weave cleaning cloth. I rinse mine well before use and discard afterwards. Otherwise, muslin or cheesecloth is available at Haberdashery stores.

*A long handled mixing spoon and a deep jug or container over which to suspend it.

*300mls or thereabouts of good quality olive oil and a wide mouthed jar for storing.

*Herbs and spices for flavouring the oil. I suggest things like fresh thyme, whole chilli, whole cloves of garlic, whole peppercorns.

*Optional fresh or dried herbs for stirring through your Labna. My favourite is Lemon zest and mint.

Making the yoghurt:

To your one litre sealable container, add 500mls of body temperature tap water. To the water add the 1 2/3 cups powdered full cream milk and the 2 tablespoons yoghurt starter. You can use the same amount of real yoghurt if you have it to get your yoghurt culture started, but it will weaken over 3-5 batches, and you'll need a newly purchased tub of natural yoghurt with which to start a fresh batch.

Put the lid on and shake well until combined. Top up with more blood warm water (this means that when you put your hand under the water to test the temperature, it is neither warm nor cold, but about the same temperature as your skin). Shake well to mix.

Now you need to put your baby yoghurt to bed. If you have an Easiyo Container, it's as simple as filling it half way with very warm, but NOT boiling, water, placing your sealed container inside, putting the thermos lid on and leaving undisturbed for around 12 hours. The reason you can't use boiling water is that it will kill the bacteria you need to turn the milk into yoghurt.

If you don't have an Easiyo container, try duplicating the idea, by placing your well sealed container into a small esky or other container, filled with enough warm water to come about 7/8ths of the way up the side of your one litre sealed container. Then add some thermal protection such as a blanket or towel wrapped around it to maintain the temperature of the water bath. All you're really doing, is providing a constant warm environment for your yoghurt cultures to do their job.

Check after 12 hours, and there you have it. Your own beautiful thick natural yoghurt.

The Cheese:

Now you're going to reduce the amount of liquid in the yoghurt, making it thick enough to roll into little balls of labna 'cheese'.

Line your deep jug with the muslin or Chux, and spoon all of your yoghurt into it. Gather up the cloth, forming a ball of yoghurt inside a knapsack, like the ones we saw hobos using in the cartoons as kids. Tie your knapsack to the middle of the mixing spoon, and hang it inside the jug, suspended a little from the bottom, to give the liquid (whey) somewhere to go. I sometimes find it easier to gather the corners and edges of the Chux and secure them with a rubber band. I can then use the long corners to tie to the handle of the spoon.

Leave for a further 12 hours.

At this point, you'll have a luxuriously thick paste of yoghurt cheese, and the liquid or 'whey' in the bottom of the jug. You can discard the whey, use it as a healthy drink or add to smoothies, or I'm told it makes an excellent skin toner! As for the cheesey yoghurty paste, you can now mix in seasoning and herbs, sweet or savoury.

I sometimes make little apricot cheesecake balls by adding finely diced apricots or other dried fruits like candied ginger or cranberries, confectioners sugar (icing sugar), vanilla, and rolling in toasted coconut. Mostly though, I prefer them as a savoury morsel.

Carefully layer in the jar, and once all your little balls of cheese are complete, pour the oil over them, sufficient to cover.

In the cooler weather, I leave these out on the bench and enjoy them at room temperature. In Summer though, I refrigerate them, taking them out about 30 minutes before use.

This little treat lasts me about a week, so I give myself 48 hours to prepare another batch, just to be safe.

It's a lengthy process, but by no means a difficult one. Go on, you can do it!



  1. Thanks for the link from Simple Savings to your blog Mimi, I love greek yoghurt so will be sure to try this recipe and try making labna as I've not eaten it before. I know, how not? lol

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