Why would you want to buy cream cheese when you can make it yourself? A pure, white, healthy, whole fat yogurt, strained and transformed in what turns out to be a delicious cheese spread. Effortless and absolutely sensational seasoned with za'atar and extra virgin olive oil.
Before I go any further on how good this cheese is, I need to make a special note on "za'atar". Many of you probably already know this spice, I discovered it recently from Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks. One of my favorite reads, the place I learn how to make good use of simple everyday food, where natural and healthy ingredients take a step forward on the scale of good habits.
Za'atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend, a combination of several spices including sesame seeds. You'll find sumac, marjoram, oregano and thyme as the primary spices. Many adjust the blend to ones preference but the basic blend is probably the most used. In Italy, you can't find Za'atar easily, nor sumac (or maybe it's just me). I mentioned my za'atar desire to a friend of mine BarbaraT, she's what I define the Sherlock Holmes of any kind of ingredient you can't find around the corner and will answer your question, even before you finish the sentence, with an "elementary Watson". With me, she went beyond, not only did she find it, she brought me some to try. How can I thank her more, I now have a new favorite spice on my kitchen shelf. I've tried za'atar on flat bread, pizza, vegetables, meat...it's that type of spice that adds tang to just about everything seasonable.
For me, the perfect combo is za'atar on labneh. They were born to be together. Labneh is a yogurt cheese and is made by straining a full fat yogurt in a cloth overnight. The whey is removed and the yogurt thickens perserving its sour taste. It takes this one step to make your own cream cheese. Season it with za'atar, olive oil and salt. Labneh is versatile and combines beautifully with olives or chopped vegetables, I'd rather not complicate it too much and leave it simple as simple it is to make. Believe me, once you try this, you won't buy a store bought cream cheese anymore.
Recipe - Labneh
1 kg plain white full fat yogurt
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1 tbsp za'atar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Stir the salt into the yogurt and pour over a sieve lined with cheesecloth. Place the sieve over a bowl that is slightly smaller, keeping the sieve suspended so it doesn't sit in the liquid. Cover and place in the fridge for 24 hours, the more it strains, the more it thickens. Follow your preference of thickness. I kept mine overnight and the texture was perfect. Remove from the cloth, sprinkle some za'atar, salt and extra virgin olive oil.