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Jan 23, 2001 08:01 AM


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I just returned from a vacation in Israel where every morning I had the most delicious cheese called labeneh (also spelled lebbene). It is is an unbelievably soft sheeps milk based cheese that is popular throught the region. It is often in the shape of a ping-pong ball and stored in olive oil. Does anyone know where to find this cheese in Manhattan? I do not recall ever seeing it at Fairway or Ideal Cheese.
Thanks in advance for any help.

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  1. Various brands are available at Sahadi's and other middle eastern grocery stores; the spelling on the packages I've seen is Labne or Labni. It is a cow's milk cheese, sort of a halfway point between yogurt and sour cream, which does not sound quite like what you're looking for.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Jeremy Osner

      Labne basically yoghurt cheese, made by draining as much water out of yoghurt as possible. (By the way, in most Arab countries, "labin" means 'yoghurt.' In Egypt, 'labin' is used for 'milk' in general, and 'zabadi' is used for yoghurt). My parents made labne by putting a scooping a large quantity of yoghurt (which they, of course, made themselves) into several layers of cheese cloth, tying the ends up, and hanging over a basin for a couple of days. Then, form the cheese into balls, put into a jar, and cover with olive oil for future use. Or, just use the resultant cheese as a spread. The labne that is available at any Middle Eastern shop - Kalustyans on Lex and 28th, being one in Manhattan - though it's also available at many cheese shops and good groceries, including Fairway and Murray's in the Village, is a little different. It is nearly always a spread, and it has a higher fat content (because of added cream) than the labne Middle Easterners tend to make. That said, my parents made yoghurt with "extra rich milk," a product not available in New York, so it wasn't exactly fat-free either. The stuff sold in stores is delicious; I haven't found a brand that I necessarily preferred to the others. (Kalustyans carries a few).

      With regard to cow's versus sheep's milk, the principle is the same. The products I've seen use cow's milk. You can make you're own, sheep's milk version by following the instructions I gave above. You'll get the same result, if more "sheepish."

    2. It is available at Fairway (in the refrigerated case --behind the olives -- with the yogurt, creme fraiche, etc., all the way on the left, with the other Israeli dairy products) in both cow and the more authentic sheep's milk. They also have it with za'ater mixed in. I have also seen this same brand at Zabars.

      You will have many more brands to choose from at any of the Israeli food shops in Brooklyn on Kings Highway, just west of Ocean Pkwy., or on Main Street between the LIE and Grand Central in Queens.

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