I remember my grandmother AKA Grammy, as sharply drawn on eyebrows and boxes of pencils for Christmas. My grandfather’s AKA Papa, is more pronounced and memorable. Scally caps and coffee cakes, mostly. But the people I knew still aren’t the parents that my mother had. Those people I’ll never experience.
But it’s at this moment in time, I’m finding myself checking hydrometer readings on gallons of beer in the basement, at the same time, tying up a cheese-cloth satchel of yogurt, where in a couple of days, it will give me labneh, a soft Middle Eastern cheese. And my mother, looking on, amazed and excited, because as she later tells me, her father was a homebrewer, a concoctor of natural remedies, home-made wine and dandelion soup. And her mother, used to hog the shower for days, with her bags of strained yogurt-cheese hanging from the shower rods. I never knew these things about my grandparents. And I’m coming to appreciate family a whole lot more through food. There’s nothing like seeing your mother remember her mother by tasting a cheese that still tastes the same after 30 years.
Anyways. Labneh. Soft-texture, flavor similar to a blend of cream cheese and goat cheese. A common breakfast throughout the Middle East and Greece. Something really special when smeared onto pita bread. Try it out. You can either make it plain, or do as I did, and marinate the cheese in olive oil and fresh herbs & garlic. It’s fun to make and there’s really nothing like incorporating a traditional old-world delicacy into your life.
Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking: A Commonsense Guide
4 cups plain Greek yogurt
2 tsps. sea salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper (this can be omitted if you don’t have any, or if you prefer your cheese without a slight peppery kick)
1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tbs. rosemary leaves
6-8 thyme sprigs
In a medium-sized bowl, place the yogurt and stir in the salt and pepper. Line a bowl with a piece of cheesecloth folded in half to make a square. Spoon the yogurt into the center. Bring the ends of the cheesecloth together and using a piece of string, tie as closely as possible to the yogurt, leaving a loop at the end.
Thread the loop through the handle of a wooden spoon and hang the yogurt over a bowl. Leave to drain in the refrigerator for 3 days. (This can be done by either hanging the yogurt from a rack in your fridge, or what I did was use a wide-mouth long-neck punch jar)
Rinse a mason jar with boiling water and dry in a warm oven.
In a small bowl, mix together the olive oil, garlic, rosemary, and fresh thyme. Set aside.
Untie the cheesecloth and roll tablespoons of the drained yogurt into balls. Make sure your hands are cool and wash them often.
Place the labneh balls in the dried jar and pour the herbed oil over the top. Seal with a lid and refridgerate for 24 hours. Serve at room temperature.