Strained or Hung Yoghurt Cream Cheese is made using natural Greek yoghurt, a muslin cloth and a little waiting time. It can be served as a savoury spiced Labneh, Shrikhand with sweet toppings, used in baking, cooking or eaten fresh. Since most of the whey is strained away, it can be enjoyed by people who are mildly lactose intolerant.
By Martyna Candrick
Strained yoghurt is a popular style of cheese used in Southern European, Middle Eastern, Central and Southern Asian cooking. Unlike cream cheese, yoghurt cheese is high in gut beneficial bacteria, is creamy without the excess fat and since most of the whey is strained away, it can be enjoyed by people who are mildly lactose intolerant. I first discovered Labneh – balls of strained yoghurt preserved in herb-infused oil about 3 years ago. It became an instant infatuation. I quickly decided to make my own because it is cheaper and because I could preserve mine in pure olive oil instead of “vegetable” oil blends that the more expensive stuff from the deli came swimming in.
The secret of this recipe lies in the quality of the yoghurt used. Use a yogurt that is thick and creamy already without any thickeners (gelatine, gums) or additives frequently used in a few of the other brands, and one that is beautifully tart.
Here are 7 of my favourite ways to use it:
1. Make Middle Eastern Labneh and preserve it in quality olive oil and your favourite blend of spices and herbs. It will last for months, but I bet it will be all gone not before long. Spread it on bread, use to top salads, add some to mash.
2. Because of the lower water content than yoghurt itself, it can be used as an addition to sauces without splitting, so it is a fantastic for soups and curries.
3. It makes for a creamier, richer base for dips such as the Greek tzatziki, Lebanese garlic sauce or Turkish haydari which is similar to tzatziki but does not include cucumber. My most recent favourite is salmon and yoghurt cream cheese dip – you can use this yoghurt dip version as a base. I’m also thinking of making a smoked mackerel version!
4. Use it in frostings and icings instead of cream cheese – less fat and a great dose of healthy cultures in each cupcake serving.
5. Bake it in things like cheesecake.
6. We use it as topping for nachos and tacos instead of sour cream, crumble it for salads or enjoy spread fresh on crispbread topped with smoked salmon, tomato or tuna.
7. Make Indian Shrikhand (pictured), which is a sweet strained yoghurt dish that incorporates sugar – I prefer to use honey or rice syrup, nuts and fruit. It’s refreshing and often enjoyed instead of ice cream. You can obviously go all out in terms of the seeds, nuts and spices.
- 500g (17.5oz) Greek-style yoghurt
- 1 large piece gauze, muslin or cheesecloth
- Fold the cheesecloth so that it is 2-3 single layers thick. Place the cloth over a bowl. Mix yoghurt in the tub and spoon into the middle of the cheese cloth. Gather the edges up tightly and tie into a knot on the top.
- Using a couple of bamboo skewers, or a chopstick, hang the yoghurt ball over a plastic container and place in the fridge. Allow the whey (milky water) to drip into the container for 12 – 36 hours. The longer you allow it to hang the denser the cheese will become. Pour off the whey (you can keep it for use in smoothies or cake batters instead of water) after the first 12 or so hours.
- You can preserve the cheese in herb and spice infused oil for upto 1 month, or keep in in an airtight container for upto a week.