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Cheese is one of the oldest foods known to humankind. There are books dedicated to the mirroring effect of cheese and culture. The industrial revolution brought more consistent products with a strong emphasis on sanitation, but it also meant the loss of important flavour nuances that come with small scale, regional production. Local and artisanal cheeses have become increasingly popular, bringing us back to the original roots of the craft. By supporting local, artisanal cheese companies in your community, you can become a little part of changing history.
But, back to the beginning. Cheese evolved by mistake. We aren’t sure whether it was because milk reacted to the enzymes in the sheep stomachs typically used to store it, or because someone decided to salt curdled milk so it would keep longer, but, either way, this happy mistake goes right up there with penicillin as one of the top inventions-by-mistake.
Cheese making is not simple, but simple fresh cheeses like paneer, yogurt cheese, quark, fresh chevre and cottage cheese can be made easily enough with common ingredients and tools found around the home. For intermediate and advanced cheese making, you will need more specialized ingredients and equipment, which can be found online. I have also noticed that hobbyist cheese-making courses are cropping up everywhere.
Here is a recipe for a basic yogurt cheese, also known as labneh. It has a lot of healthy, beneficial bacteria in it, and, being yogurt, it is perfect for those who are lactose intolerant.
The From Scratch Method
•Start with 4 cups of your favourite full-fat, natural, or even Greek, yogurt, with minimal ingredients. Look for ingredient lists with just milk, cream and live bacterial cultures. For more authentic taste, use a goat milk yogurt.
• Spoon yogurt into a clean, sanitized bowl, and mix in 1 tsp of salt.
• Line a colander or sieve with enough cheesecloth to hold the yogurt and still be able to tie up the ends. Place this over a bowl to catch your whey as it drains off. (This can also be done by tying and hanging it over the sink with the catch bowl underneath, or by tying to a wooden spoon lying over top of a deep bowl.)
•Transfer the yogurt into the cheesecloth-lined colander, tie up the ends, and leave it at room temperature for two days.
• After two days, your yogurt cheese should have a spreadable consistency. It can be stored for up to two weeks like this in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
• However, if you are adventurous and want to make traditional labneh, let it strain for another day at room temperature. Then, transfer it to a sealed container in the fridge to firm up.
• With dampened hands, roll labneh into balls the size of golf balls.
• Gently place the balls in a clean, sterilized mason jar as you make them. The mason jar should be filled about one quarter full of extra-virgin olive oil.
• Once full, top up the mason jar with olive oil, seal, and use as needed. This cheese keeps much longer when stored marinating in the lovely olive oil.
• For serving and spectacular presentation of your freshly made cheese, infuse additional flavour by rolling it in chopped fresh herbs, spices or crushed nuts.
- Make sure there is no gelatin listed in the ingredients of your yogurt. Gelatin will prevent it from forming into a cheese.
- Save your whey. This protein- and nutrient-rich liquid can be used in fruit smoothies, gazpacho and baking.
- Yogurt cheese can be made in low-fat, non-fat and flavoured varieties, as well.
- The thicker the yogurt, the easier it is to make this type of cheese. Greek yogurt works well.