I’m making the world’s most popular cheese today: yogourt cheese. Never heard of it? That’s no surprise. Around the world it is the most universally loved cheese, but in North America it is barely loved at all. It’s known as leben or labneh in Arabic speaking countries, fromage frais in France, queso blanco in South America. And in English speaking countries, if this cheese is known at all, it is labled with a foreign tongue. Aside from the ungainly ‘yogourt cheese’, we simply don’t have a name for it in the English language. So allow me to re-christen this wonderful, fresh cheese dream cheese.
And why is this the world’s most eaten cheese? Because it is the most easily made at home. You don’t need a stove, you don’t need rennet, you don’t even need water. All you need to make this cheese is some yogourt.
1. Get some yogourt.
Either make yogourt yourself or get it at the grocer. Look for yogourt with a simple ingredient list: milk and bacterial cultures. Any yogourt will do, so long as it doesn’t have any thickeners or gelling agents in it that will prevent the yogourt from separating.
2. Get some cheesecloth.
Get a good piece of cheesecloth: anything but the despicable, disposable grocery-store stuff which has pores so wide the yogourt slips right through. Professionals use unbleached muslin or nylon cloth that’s strong yet light, and easy to wash. I once used a pillowcase, and was thus inspired to name this cheese for a dream. These days I use a favourite gangster accessory, the Do-Rag, which you can find at your local Jamaican barbershop. It has a perfect head-shaped pocket that’s just the right size for a batch of cheese, and two long tails that are perfect for hanging the cheese upon a wooden spoon. A do-rag makes a gangsta cheese!
3. Pour yogourt into the cheesecloth.
Now drape your cheesecloth, freshly washed, atop a bowl and pour some yogourt out into its centre. Pull together the four corners of the cloth around the yogourt, give them a twist, and secure with a knot. Pull the cheesecloth, by its topknot, into the air, and watch as whey begins to drip into the bowl below. Drip by drip, this yogourt will become cheese.
4. Hang the yogourt overnight.
Find a place to hang this cheese. Stick a wooden stick through the knot and suspend over a big stock pot. Or stuff the bag into the handle of a cupboard. Or better yet, hang it from your chandelier…just be sure to place a bowl underneath to catch all the whey!
After 24 hours, this cheese will have dripped dry. And you can enjoy it just like that. If you haven’t the patience to wait more than a few hours, don’t fret about indulging – this partly hung yogourt is known as quark in Germany, quarho in Spanish.
5. Salt your cheese.
Salt your cheese if you’d like to keep it, and to improve its flavour. Salt draws moisture out from the cheese, concentrating its goodness, and preventing it from spoiling. To salt, open up the cheese-bag, and sprinkle out a teaspoon of salt over the surface of the cheese. Close the bag, and hang it again upon the chandelier. Though the cheese had stopped dripping, the dripping will resume. Wait another four hours and the dream cheese will be even dreamier.
Why is this cheese unknown in North America? Because we lack a home cheesemaking culture. We leave our cheesemaking to professionals, or to other countries, as we fear for the safety our food. Yet, this cheese is so easy to make, so safe, so affordable, and so wonderful that it’s a wonder it’s not more popular.
But it’s not popular because of this cheese’s short life-span. It is not suited towards our supermarket centred food distribution system as dream cheese simply does not last long enough. Even under refrigeration, this cheese wouldn’t make it from dairies to distributors to supermarkets and ultimately to consumers’ homes.
Equivalents of this cheese exist in the supermarket. But they are made with rennet, or hot packed and thickened with gums of all sorts. Their texture is vastly different, and these cheeses lacks flavour. The only real way to find real dream cheese is to make it yourself!
*Do not use a dry cheesecloth for hanging cheese, as the cheese will stick to the fabric and will be difficult to remove.
*Don’t squeeze the cheese to force out whey. You’ll almost certainly end up with squeezed cheese in your eye.
*make this cheese with goats yogourt, and you get chevre.
*make this cheese with extra high fat yogourt, and you get cream cheese.