Thursday, March 14, 2013

March Daring Cooks' Challenge - Cheese

When this month's Daring Cooks' Challenge came out, I was super excited.

Sawsan from chef in disguise was our March 2013 Daring Cooks hostess! Sawsan challenges us to make our own homemade cheeses! She gave us a variety of choices to make, all of them easily accomplished and delicious!

Homemade cheese has been something that I have been wanting to try for a long time. I did make my own mascarpone cheese for the tiramisu challenge a few years ago, but that's as far as my cheesemaking experience went.

I was also amazingly nervous about this. I don't know why, but the challenge intimidated the heck out of me.

Until this week when I realized I was running out of time.

Sawsan provided us with a number of recipes, but didn't limit us to those she provided. And, as homemade mozzarella cheese has been on my "want to try" list for a while, I thought I'd start there.

While I was at it, though, I thought I'd also try one of Sawsan's recipe, so went for the most basic choice - labneh. Labneh is also called yogurt cheese and it's very simple - simply strain greek yogurt through a couple of layers of cheesecloth to remove most of the whey, and, well, there you have it!

So I set my yogurt into some cheesecloth and got started on the mozzarella.

Homemade mozzarella, according to the recipes I'd read online, are pretty simple - heat whole milk with some citric acid, mix in some dissolved rennet, let it rest, then heat and knead the resulting curds until it is shiny and smooth and, well, mozzarella cheese!



This was a total fail for me.

I begged Sawsan for help. Because she is awesome like that. Truly.

She explained that some brands of milk heat the milk higher than the regulated temperature during the pasteurization process, and that can interfere with the ability of the milk to be made into cheese. Which is probably the case with the milk I bought. She gave me a few suggestions as to ways I could turn my failed mozzarella (seriously, not a single curd...) into some other kind of cheese... adding yogurt... heating it and adding vinegar... I tried a little of everything. And it resulted in this weird semi-yogurty-maybe-kind-of-ricotta-y-pseudo cheese.

Weird.  Not disgusting, but weird.

So I will try mozzarella again, with different milk (maybe even fresh from the farm across the street!), and will report back - hopefully with a success story.

Once I cleaned up from the mozzarella mess, though, I was ready to check on the labneh.

The yogurt was draining beautifully, but I wanted my labneh a bit thicker, so I popped the bowl into the fridge overnight.

I then started searching for some ideas as to alternative uses for labneh (rather than just as a dip or a spread). In my reading, I saw that you can make sweet labneh, incorporating brown sugar. So I ran out and picked up another container of greek yogurt and started in on that.

Now, remember - I'd been too scared to start this challenge back when I should have, so you are going to have to wait to see what my plans are for the sweet labneh, but I gotta say - it's delicious on its own, so I really hope I don't eat it all before I get the chance to try the next steps!

As for the "plain" labneh, I left some as-is, as it makes a really delightful alternative to cream cheese, and I rolled some into labneh balls, which I drizzled with olive oil and dusted with Italian seasonings - yum!

So, while I am a little disappointed in my results this month, having only succeeded in making the simplest of cheeses, I am glad that I finally got over my initial fear, and I really look forward to trying again.

To see the amazing cheeses prepared by the highly more successful cooks this month, check them out here.

And to see the full challenge, as beautifully presented by Sawsan this month, you can check that out here.

Basic Labneh
(from challenge)

1 kg yogurt (Greek, regular or fat free) (I used one 32 ounce container of plain Greek style yogurt)
1 teaspoon salt

Place a piece of doubled cheesecloth or soft cotton fabric (preferably un-dyed and clean) in a colander and place the colander over a deep bowl, so that there is space between the bottom of the collander and the bottom of the bowl.
Stir the salt into the yogurt, then spoon the yogurt into the center of the cheesecloth-lined collander.
Leave to drain for 3-4 hours. (If the weather is hot allow it to drain in the fridge).
Check on the labneh's consistency and if you like it to be thicker cover it with the cheese cloth and place a weight on top of it then allow it to drain for more time.
If you are tight on time you can pull the corners of the cheese cloth up and tie them tightly and then suspend from a stationary object over a bowl (to collect the whey).
Let this hang overnight, when well drained it will be the consistency of cottage cheese.
Remove from the cloth and store covered in the refrigerator until needed.



  1. Wonderful cheese, Shelley! Sorry to hear the mozzarela did not work for you. I also want to try it, but first I need to source some better quality milk. It isn't easy here. The herbed labneh looks wonderful and I can't wait to see the sweet version! Great job!

  2. Isn't Sawsan the best? She totally rocks.

    Way to perservere with this challenge! Your mini labneh balls look really tasty

  3. I had the same problem with my first attempt at mozzarella for this challenge. Even though it was supposed to be an organic pasteurised milk (and not the UHT version), it hardly curdled. I do recommend you to go and pick up fresh milk, especially if it is just across the street. :) When I used the fresh milk, I was in complete awe of the curds I got.

    Mixing labneh with sugar sounds great, because I found mine to be a bit too sour for my taste.

  4. Labneh balls look great :)
    I think mozarella is not an easy cheese to start with ;)

  5. Shelley, first off thank you so much for the kind words. I deeply appreciate them.
    Your labneh korat look wonderful and I love the idea of sprinkling them with italian seasoning.
    I am really proud of you for taking on this challenge and trying your best with mozarella.Just don't give up on it. I know you can do an amazing job at anything and everything you set your mind to do.
    On a final note, I MUST try the dessert labneh. I think the kids will love it! If I decide to share it with them lol

  6. I predict we'll both do better on our next attempts at mozzarella! Beautiful labneh, though!

  7. good job. I'm sorry your mozzarella didn't turn out. I'm kinda scared to try it too!

  8. Better luck next time with the mozzarella - it sounds like a fairly tricky cheese to make! The labneh balls look delicious though, and I'm intrigued by the sweet version!

  9. Ooh, looking forward to hearing more about the sweet labneh & your next go at mozzarella. I wanted to try it too, but I was a bit wary.
    Beautiful labneh!

  10. I was dying to take part in this challenge, but then I ran into time issues (last-minute 'Lisa' as usual) with my DC challenge. Your labneh looks perfect and I cn't wait to see your mozzarella..which I've been dying to make for ages!


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