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Feb 1, 2012 11:45 AM

Labneh/yogurt cheese vs. cream cheese

Hello everyone,

Okay, so I know that cream cheese is produced totally differently then making labneh/yogurt cheese (i.e., straining yogurt so as to separate the whey). But I'm wondering how labneh would stand up to being used as a substitute for cream cheese.

Now I know that some food substitution websites say that one of the possible subs is equal parts ricotta and yogurt, but my main goal here is economic. Ricotta doesn't go on sale that often and where I live in Montreal, you can regularly see 750 gram containers of plain yogurt for 99 cents whereas I've never seen an 8 ounce stick of cream cheese for a buck.

Mind you, I'm not talking about straining the yogurt to the point where it resembles Greek yogurt, I'm talking about getting it to be thick enough that you can take it and mold it into a bar like the cream cheese comes in and it will keep its shape (I've done this but it takes quite a bit of time leaving it out to dry).

I'm just wondering if anyone has any ideas or experience with doing that and what the difference in taste and texture has been when you've used it for particular recipes. I'm not going to do something crazy and substitute this is a recipe for cheesecake, but there are some hot dips that use cream cheese that I'd like to try it for. And THEN if that REALLY turns out well enough, I'm going to try it in these Momofuku lovelies!:

So tell me the truth, am I crazy? (Be nice)

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  1. The problem with heating yogurt is that it will curdle if the temp gets too high. So, you'll just have to be very careful with it. If I were going to try this, I'd use the fattiest yogurt I could find, in the hope of approximating the texture of cream cheese. However, keep in mind that if you strain yogurt down to the texture you're looking for, you'll lose well over half of its volume in whey. I make my own yogurt, and I've strained it to cheese-thickness before - I think I got about a quart of yogurt cheese from one and a quarter gallons of milk, maybe less. So, your money savings will probably not be nearly as good as you think they will.

    If I were doing this mainly for economic reasons, I would probably elect to make my own ricotta or cream cheese rather than trying to turn yogurt into an acceptable sub. I've never made my own cream cheese, but ricotta is very easy and economical to make, and it's 100000000x more delicious than anything you'll find in a store.

    3 Replies
    1. re: biondanonima

      Thanks for the reply! Yes, I'm totally aware of the fact that it shrinks by like a third in volume but I approximate that when I used to strain it completely the end result was not less than a standard bar of cream cheese. And the straining is not that labor intensive so it would still be a cost savings. I usually buy 3% yogurt but if there's something higher I have no problem buying it. I'm no scientist but a lot of these recipes for baked dips also feature sour cream or mascarpone cheese, so what would make a strained yogurt cheese curdle more than either of those? By the way, I have nothing against ricotta. I did make it once, and I guess I just wasn't impressed enough to make it again. I don't buy the stuff that often which is crazy because I actually love Italian food. I dunno. I guess it's just that rather subtle taste that doesn't do enough for me.

      1. re: ddobro2

        As far as I know, yogurt curdles more readily because there's a lot less fat and a lot more protein in it. A cup of sour cream has around 45g of fat, whereas a cup of full-fat Greek yogurt only has 10-12g. Mascarpone has closer to 100g of fat for a cup.

        I agree that ricotta has a very subtle taste and it's not what I'd use to sub for cream cheese. I'm just not sure that yogurt cheese is a satisfactory sub either. I would probably use fresh goat cheese if I wanted a cream cheese sub, but you're definitely not going to save money that way.

        1. re: biondanonima

          Thanks for that explanation! Okay, I'll proceed with caution.

    2. You can make labneh by straining yogurt over the course of a couple days. It should get to a thick enough consistency that you can pick up a spoonful and roll it into a solid ball. Usually this is how labneh is stored (preserved beneath oil). I will use labneh like that as a spread for bread, but I've never baked with it.

      Generally for stovetop cooking, one adds cornstarch or egg to keep yogurt from curdling, but I don't think that will work in the oven.

      1 Reply
      1. re: JungMann

        Yep, I'm familiar with letting it get thick and rolling it into balls to store in oil. I've made it like that several times. I guess I should assume that new texture doesn't mean it's less prone to curdling (biondanonima's explanation about the amount of fat, which wouldn't change when the texture/consistency changes). I didn't know about the cornstarch and egg, but I regularly put a wee bit of baking soda into my soups when I use any milk in them. Plus I wouldn't put egg into hot dips, lol.

      2. I'm not sure about the labneh/yogurt cheese, but have you considered making your own cream cheese? I've been wanting to try this recipe for a while now. I imagine that if you buy the ingredients in bulk and make a lot of cheese at once, you can save money over the regular storebought stuff (and you can make ricotta from the leftover whey), although I doubt it will ever be $1 per 8 oz.

        Looking at the recipe, however, it does look a bit like homemade yogurt, strained over several days, so you may have some of the same curdling problems as have already been discussed. In any case, here's the recipe if you want to try it.

        Paraphrased from Tim Smith's "Making Artisan Cheese" :

        4 cups (950 ml) non-ultra pasteurized half and half
        1 cup (235 ml) non-ultra pasteurized whipping cream
        2 tablespoons (28 ml) buttermilk
        Herbs (optional)

        1. Heat dairy to 90F and pour into a sanitized, non-reactive bowl. Stir in buttermilk. Cover tightly and wrap with kitchen towels to hold in the warmth. Let sit somewhere warm for 24 hours. At this point, the consistency should be similar to thick yogurt and it should stay still when tilted side to side. If it is still moving, let it sit for 6-12 hours more.

        2. Place a cheesecloth-lined colander over a catch bowl and pour in your thickened mixture. Drain at room temperature for 15 minutes, then cover the cheese with cheesecloth, wrap the whole thing in plastic and set it to drain in the fridge for another 12-14 hours.

        3. Take the curd out of the cheesecloth and add salt (or other seasonings, if you want). Roll the seasoned curd into balls, wrap them in clean cheesecloth and put them back into the colander in the fridge. Re-plastic wrap and let sit another 36-48 hours, depending on how firm you want your cream cheese.

        2 Replies
        1. re: BananaBirkLarsen

          Thank you very much BananaBirkLarsen! So I take it when it says, "heat dairy to 90F" in the first sentence, it's referring to the first two ingredients.....

          1. re: ddobro2

            Oh, sorry, yes. The original recipe actually says "creams," but I was paraphrasing for the sake of CH rules and copyright etc. etc. Slipped my mind that buttermilk is, indeed, dairy too.