Lately I have been all about the cheese and crackers, largely because we have a serious dearth of snack food in the house. I like cheddar; I like mozzarella; I like swiss; I certainly like any actual quality cheese we might have around. But sometimes we end up making, say, a lasagne, and using up all our cheese stock at once. Sometimes we have only cheddar, and I want a softer, tangier cheese. It is at times like this that I make yogurt cheese.
Yogurt cheese is a raw cheese made by draining the whey from plain, full-fat yogurt. As there is no cooking involved, it’s even easier to make than paneer and queso blanco. It is not necessarily an authentic “cheese” so much as a milk solid. But it is light and tangy and easily spreadable, and provides cheese for your cracker at reasonably short notice, considering you are making cheese. Also, yogurt is generally cheaper than cheese; this can satisfy cheese cravings on a tight budget.
Line your strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth, scoop in your yogurt, and let it drain overnight. I myself have no strainer, so I have had to improvise. I generally hang my cheesecloth inside an empty jar by means of a rubber band around the rim. You want the cheesecloth to come at most halfway to the bottom of the jar, so there is plenty of room for whey to drip out underneath. Then just put the yogurt in the cheesecloth and let it drain. You can use as much yogurt as you want, but two cups will make enough for two or three snack sessions.
Most of the whey will drain out within the first hour, so if you are really hurting for cheese, you can use it as soon as the whey level has stabilized. For a firmer cheese, it’s best to drain overnight. Either way, you aren’t going to get a solid cheese that you can slice; you are going to get a soft, spreading consistency not unlike that of whipped cream cheese.
Remove the cheese from its cloth and put it into a small bowl or old hummus container. Now you can mix in anything you want, to give the cheese more flavor. I have a very productive sage plant, so I like to add minced sage to my cheese. You can use almost any fresh herb you want. I also add fresh cracked black pepper and maybe a little salt. If you want garlic, I recommend that you sweat it in a little olive oil first; raw garlic goes an extremely long and pungent way with this cheese.
You can eat the cheese right away, or you can wait an hour or so to let all the flavors meld and intensify. If you haven’t added anything, you can certainly eat it as soon as you want. I like to spread it on stoned wheat thins or water crackers, and maybe have some baby carrots and celery alongside. Or dip them in the cheese, if you want. It’s all good.
Your cheese should keep for about a week, refrigerated, if you don’t eat it all first.
yclept says: "A coffee filter works well instead of cheesecloth." And considering coffee filters are cup-shaped already, they might be easier to use with the jar method.
sneff says: "You know - this cheese has a name (amongst others I imagine). Pack it in oil, and marinate it, it becomes the fabulous Middle Eastern cheese, labna." Dude! I had no idea!
rp says: "this was one of my parents' classic desserts, it's called 'hangop' (hangup) in Dutch." With this in mind, I made a fresh, unherbed batch and ate some with honey. It was totally sweet. I think that adding a fig compote/jam of some type would be really great too.