A foray into cheesemaking

by threegirlpileup

Or is it cheese making?  I’m not sure.

I’ve been making yogurt cheese for some time now.  It’s very simple; you just put yogurt into a strainer lined with cloth (I started with cheesecloth but now use a flour sack dishcloth that I can re-use), and let the whey drain away for a day or so.  The result is a spreadable cheese that we use as our cream cheese around here.  I even used it to make cream cheese frosting for Anna’s birthday cupcakes; it was a little soft, but tasted great.

I wanted to take it a bit farther, so this weekend I branched out and made labneh balls.  This really just takes yogurt cheese one step further, draining the yogurt more thoroughly so that the consistency is thicker.  I tied my cloth up and suspended it from a wooden spoon inside a pitcher.

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I left it for a day in the strainer and then another day in the pitcher, until it didn’t seem to be dripping whey any more.

We then unwrapped it and formed it into balls.  We used a small ice cream scoop and then rolled them into neater balls in our hands.

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Home Cheesemaking suggests putting them uncovered into the fridge so that they’ll dry out and firm up, which is what I did.  I recently read here that you can put them on muslin to absorb extra moisture, which also seems like a good technique.  Some of the balls were definitely still a little soft, and I think the fabric would have helped firm them up.

For serving, I took two approaches.  The traditional way to eat labneh balls in the Middle East is to put a small depression in them and pour olive oil over the balls.  They are often garnished with mint.  I took a more Italian approach to seasoning, adding chopped garlic, rosemary leaves and salt and pepper to the oil.  We then ate with our some of our favorite accompianments–roasted red peppers (drizzled with the same oil plus a little balsamic vinegar), fig jam, and a loaf of Pane Paisano that Steve brought home from work.

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Yum!  And all locally grown and made products–including the bread and the milk for the cheese.

I also packed a jar full of balls to marinate in olive oil with seasonings.  Back when I worked in the cheese department at our local Whole Foods, I used to do this with huge batches of goat cheese or feta.  I layered the cheese in the jar with chopped garlic, salt, peppercorns, roasted red peppers and a few sprigs of rosemary.  I’ll let it sit in the fridge for a few days before we start eating it, but I’m confident it will be very tasty.

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The only thing I would do differently next time is to add some salt to the yogurt before straining.  I didn’t really think of this ahead of time, but for a savory preparation like this, some salt mixed in would help the flavor.  But overall, a success!  I can’t wait to move on to mozzarella….or maybe some soft goat cheese….

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