Yogurt “cheese” really isn’t cheese at all. It’s simply yogurt that has been thickened into a soft, cream cheese-like consistency…and it’s delightful on your morning bagel or in recipes calling for cream cheese or sour cream.
Although I have used fat-free and 2% yogurt to make this creamy spread, I prefer whole milk yogurt for a smooth, fresh taste reminiscent of mascarpone. For years, I never actually bought whole milk yogurt. I drank skim milk growing up so whole milk seemed so full of, well, fat. But if you look at the nutritional comparison between sour cream or cream cheese and yogurt–even full fat yogurt–yogurt is still the winner by a mile. Plus, it offers a healthy dose of calcium and protein.
For sure, I still buy sour cream and cream cheese on occasion. But for the sake of easy substitutions, this is just a handy recipe to have in your kitchen tool box. I always have yogurt on hand–but often do not have sour cream or cream cheese–so this simple technique has saved me a trip to the grocery store on more than one occasion.
Starting with a quart-size (32-ounce) container is ideal when making yogurt cheese. As for yield, a good estimate is that every one cup of yogurt will produce one-third to one-half a cup of yogurt cheese. The amount of liquid lost in the process–and, ultimately, how thick the resulting cheese is–depends on how long the yogurt drains. When starting with Greek yogurt, less liquid will drain out as some of the whey has already been removed. Feel free to make this easy recipe in any proportion, depending on how much cheese you’d like in the end.
- 3 cups yogurt (I prefer Stonyfield Organic’s whole milk yogurt although non-fat or 2% will work. Greek yogurt may be used; less liquid will drain out)
If you have a fine-mesh strainer, you may add the yogurt without lining it first. If using a colander, line it with a piece soft cotton fabric (I like to use an old, thin–clean!–t-shirt that I’ve cut into a rag; seven or eight layers of cheesecloth may be used instead). Place the strainer or colander over a bowl or pot, and then scoop the yogurt into the strainer or cloth-lined colander. Make sure the bottom of the strainer doesn’t touch the liquid in the bowl as it drains out.
Place in the refrigerator, and let the yogurt drain overnight or at least 8 to 12 hours. You may cover with plastic wrap, but this is not critical. The longer the yogurt strains, the thicker it will become. I like the end result to be really thick and typically let the yogurt drain for two days. You may use it at anytime, even while still draining.
When the yogurt has reached the desired level of thickness, remove it from the strainer and store in a jar or other airtight container in the refrigerator.
The liquid whey that has drained into the bowl may be discarded, or it can be used as a substitute for buttermilk, milk, or water in bread, muffin, or cake recipes. It’s quite nutritious.
The cheese will keep for about a week and may be used just like cream cheese or even sour cream. Avoid beating the yogurt cheese too vigorously as it may break down.
- If you wish to use the yogurt cheese in a savory recipe, you may stir 1 teaspoon of kosher salt into every three cups of yogurt prior to straining.
- Make an herbed cheese by mixing in fresh or dried herbs, minced garlic, pepper flakes, etc.
- Use it as a base for tzatziki sauce.
- Try it in this recipe for Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes
- …Or this recipe for Scrambled Eggs with Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese
- Dollop on baked potatoes, chili, and other soups or spicy recipes for a luscious alternative to sour cream.
- Make Yogurt Cheese Balls (Labneh Makbus) by straining until the yogurt (mixed with 1 teaspoon salt per 3 cups of yogurt) is very thick. Then roll a tablespoon at a time into smooth, round balls, and chill until firm. Once the balls are firm and slightly dried out, place them in an airtight jar and cover with olive oil. Enjoy with olives and/or fresh pita bread.
- Enjoy as extra-thick Greek yogurt mixed with fruit, a drizzle of maple syrup–or all by itself!
If you have a fine-mesh sieve, there is no need to line it with cloth as is necessary with a colander.
When I make yogurt cream cheese with whole milk yogurt, I don’t add a thing to it. If using non-fat or 2% yogurt, I like to add a bit of honey or maple syrup.