I had lots of plain yogurt leftover from Passover that I had to use up before the pull date. Plain yogurt is one of those things that I buy with the best of intentions, but it usually just languishes in the fridge, buried behind all the sugary flavored yogurt containers.
Once I turn it into yogurt cheese, though, it gets gobbled up in a couple of days.
And it is so easy to make . . . all you do is put the yogurt into a strainer (lined with double layers of cheesecloth or paper coffee filters) to drain off the excess liquid. Rest the strainer over a bowl to catch the water that drains off and place the whole thing in the refrigerator. You can add some salt to the yogurt at this point, or later, as desired.
Let four cups of yogurt strain in the fridge for about a day, and you will have two cups of creamy lowfat or no fat cheese spread. The texture is somewhat thicker than Greek yogurt–thick enough to spread on toast. You can also use the yogurt cheese in recipes . . . like cheesecake (also here).
I like my yogurt cheese even thicker, as thick as cream cheese. Theoretically, you can get the cheese this thick by just letting it continue to drain in the strainer.
As a practical matter, I have found it best to dump the yogurt cheese (after it has drained for 24 hours in the initial strainer set-up) onto a plate lined with several layers of paper towels and a top layer of coffee filter paper. I try to separate the cheese into rough balls (it will be a bit too soft to be shaped into anything other than mushy balls at this stage). I spread out the balls on the paper lined plate and then add a covering of paper towels. This method maximizes surface area and pulls off moisture faster.
After another day in the fridge, the paper towels will have pulled off a lot of moisture and you will be able to roll much firmer balls of cheese. These cheese calls can be stored covered with olive oil in a jar in the fridge. Supposedly, the olive covered yogurt cheese balls keep quite well, but they will get eaten up before you can test out this theory.
Leave your yogurt balls plain, or, get more elaborate and add herbs and seasonings to both the cheese balls and the olive oil marinade. (or see here, or here). The cheese balls make a nice appetizer served in the marinade, or taken out of the marinade and rolled in spices or herbs.
If you want some interesting ideas for cheese balls, sweet and savory, take a look at this post.
You can also use goat milk yogurt to make yogurt cheese, which is known as labneh in the Middle East. You serve the labne with olive oil and za’atar, warm pita bread, olives and salad.
You can use any strainer lined with cheesecloth, but I use a strainer specifically designed for making yogurt cheese. My yogurt strainer is by Progressive and it looks like a just like a cone-shaped coffee filter. While my model of yogurt strainer is not for sale anymore, there are others, like this.
You can also use paper coffee filters (see here for an explanation on using the cone shaped filters, and here for a photo tutorial for using the cup shaped paper filters). The whole process might go faster with Greek yogurt, which is less liquid than regular yogurt.