Eats, Roots and Cheese

Posted by on Oct 19, 2010 | 1 Comment

cyclops

In the Beginning: A Cyclopean cheese

Cheese is one of those foods which link us with our European tupuna.  It is a product, like wine and olives, hams and salt fish where the food and its taste is a product of the preservation method used.

Cheese is a food from the very beginnings of human interaction with livestock. There are written records of cheese making from ancient Sumer, cheese was buried with Egyptian pharaohs and it was greed for cheese which got the Greek adventurer Odysseus into trouble with Cyclops. Homer described how Odysseus and his men watched hungrily as Cyclops filled both his belly and his store cupboard;

“He sat down and milked his ewes and goats…He curdled half the milk and set it aside in wicker strainers, but the other half he poured into bowls that he might drink it for his supper.”

“He curdled half the milk…” This is the basis of cheese making and the use of baskets to strain cheese continues in artisan cheese making today; it is the way since time immemorial that stock herders have made sure that the surplus milk was preserved for tomorrow’s breakfast.

Making simple cheese is one of those things we can do in our kitchens which allow an exploration of the basis of our food. In a world increasingly cut off not only from its sources of nutrition but also from the techniques which go in producing it, simple cheese reconnects us with how it all once worked. And the product tastes good too.

In parts of the Mediterranean, not far from Cyclops’s island people still make simple kitchen cheese much as the one-eyed giant did thousands of years ago. All you need a good lot of good yoghurt, a straining cloth and a bit of time. Labneh ,Labaneh, Lebnah, Labne, or Labni, (thanks Wiki) is the name of this cheese.

Here is how to make it.

You need:

  • Unsweetened Yoghurt, if I am making a large quantity I use the trusty old Easiyo yoghurt maker. The Greek style works best but the low fat options also produce a good labneh. If you want to make the yoghurt thicker just add less water to the mix. For smaller quantities Cyclops brand is good…Ah!  So that’s where they got the name.
  • 1 teaspoon of salt per  litre of yoghurt
  • A piece of cheese cloth (a threadbare tea towel works just as well).
  • A large sieve and a bowl into which the sieve will comfortably sit.

Pour yoghurt into a bowl and stir in the salt. Line the sieve with the cheesecloth and place the sieve over the bowl and pour the salted yoghurt into the cheese cloth and fold the cloth over the yoghurt.

I pour boiling water over the cheese cloth before use and then wring it out when cool. I’m not sure that this really sterilises anything but I do it anyway.

Leave the yoghurt straining in the fridge for 12 to 24 hours. Have a look, it should be thick and creamy and the whey will have collected in the bowl. Tip the labneh as it has now become into a bowl, cover and put in the fridge. I haven’t found a use for the whey yet. Any ideas?

So having made it what can you do with it?

  • Eat it as is with crackers or triangles of pita bread brushed with butter or olive oil and cooked in the oven until crisp.
  • Add things; freshly ground cumin, za’atar (a mix of herbs, sesame seeds and salt), finely chopped chillies, spring onions, crushed garlic, lemon zest, finely chopped preserved lemon, drizzle some fruity olive oil over it, in fact anything that will go with the tart creamy taste.
  • Cook with it. Fry the stalks of large mushrooms with garlic, stir in the labneh and a handful of parmesan, stuff the mushrooms and bake until bubbling.
  • The stunning cookbook, Casa Moro by Sam and Sam Clark (Devonport Library has a copy) suggest mixing it with finely chopped sage, garlic and paprika and stuffing the mixture under the skin of a chicken before roasting, yum!

1 comment

  1. Jean B says:

    Yum, sounds gorgeous, definitely something I will try, thanks!

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