Cheese Making, Vacation Taking [Marinated Lemon-Za’atar Labneh]

Doesn’t the idea of making your own cheese make you all sweaty and agitated and overwhelmed? No? Maybe it’s just me.

I’m planning to set aside more time to experiment this year. With any luck, I’ll be a seasoned vet in the art of Burrata, Curds, Mozzarella and maybe another few. I’m starting off simple, giving myself some time to ease into the process before going balls (pun intended?) out. 

This marinated labneh is EASY but god damn it’s delicious, too. I consider it a gateway cheese, if such a thing exists. I’ve made it once before and it was a success from the get-go so please don’t be intimidated by it in the slightest. 

We ate this cheese on top of warm black kale with roasted garlic dressing, wholegrain croutons and spicy baked chicken – a new favourite – but I’ve suggested some uses at the bottom of the page if that doesn’t sound quite right for you. 

We’re off for a week to Puerto Rico tomorrow so with any luck, I won’t be around these parts much but hopefully by the time I’m back, you’ll have a jar of this ready to go so we can virtually high five at your great success! 

We’ll do our best to bring some warmth home with us! 

Marinated Lemon-Za’atar Labneh
makes approx. 10-12 balls of cheese

If you can find za’atar at your Middle Eastern market, feel free to use that. I make mine at home because I usually have all the ingredients on hand. I’ve shared a recipe in case you’d like to make this spice blend from scratch. 

Special equipment: 
2-3 coffee filters or layers of cheese cloth
1 4-cup or 2 2-cup seal-able jars

500g tub Greek yogurt (plain, unsweetened)
zest from 1/2 large lemon (about 1/2 tbsp)
1 tbsp za’atar, recipe to follow
sea salt

2 cups good quality olive oil (I use California Olive Ranch‘s Arbequina)
2-4 bird chilies
2 sprigs fresh oregano
2 sprigs fresh thyme
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
8-10 peppercorns
pinch salt

Place your coffee filter or cheese cloth in a fine mesh sieve and place the sieve in a bowl deep enough to catch about 1 1/2 cups of liquid. Stir the yogurt, lemon zest, za’atar  and a pinch or two of salt together until combined. Pour into the lined-sieve. Place in the fridge, covered if you prefer, and let drain for 2 days. It should be slightly looser than a cream cheese consistency. 

Take the strained yogurt from the fridge and roll into balls slightly smaller than a golf ball (wetting your fingers/hands makes this somewhat less messy). Place cheese-balls into the jar(s) and add in the chilies, oregano, thyme, garlic, peppercorns and salt. Top with enough olive oil to submerge everything. Place in the fridge to marinate for 24 hours. The olive oil might solidify and that’s ok. Place the jar on the fridge door so it’s not as cold. Remove the jar a few hours before you plan to eat the cheese. 

To serve: 
spread on baguette
a few balls and some oil spooned over greens
with a cheese plate
on crostini
on pizza
served with pickles and smoked meats for sandwiches