Photo by Matthew Benson
This tangy cream cheese is similar to labneh, a yogurt-based cream cheese popular in many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines.
This dairy-free method does not require making yogurt first as labneh does, though you will notice that the recipe is similar to our dairy-free yogurt recipe. The main difference is that we start with coconut cream versus coconut milk. Both the yogurt and cream cheese liquefy when heated, though, so neither is good for baking (also something to keep in mind when slathering it on a hot toasted bagel).
- 2 cans (13.5 ounces) cold coconut cream, refrigerated for at least 12 hours, about 3-1/2 cups
culture or starter options (choose one)
- 1/2 cup active, live, plain dairy-free yogurt, homemade or store-bought
- 4 probiotic capsules
- 1 packet dairy-free yogurt cultures (or as directed on package; see the Resources section,
- Fine sea salt, to taste
- Fruits (strawberries, blueberries) and/or herbs (chives, dill) for flavoring (optional)
- Can opener
- Sturdy spoon
- Fine cheesecloth (90# weave), square piece
- Jar with lid, rinsed with boiling water*
- Fork or potato masher
Note: To prepare your equipment, submerge the jar, lid, fork, and spoon in a bowl of boiling water and let them sit for 5 minutes. Remove items from the bowl and allow them to cool for 10 minutes at room temperature. This will ensure that you start with a clean environment for fermentation.
- Line the dry bowl with fine cheesecloth.
- Scoop the thick coconut cream into the cloth. It’s okay if liquid comes out of the can but remove any hardened oil chunks (not all cans have these); in the future, avoid brands that do because they can cause problems with this cheese.
- Lightly mash the cream in the cheesecloth.
- Lift and twist the cheesecloth into a bundle. Squeeze until you see thin liquid (thin coconut milk) drip out.
- Massage the cream in the cloth to soften and smooth it out. Give the bundle a final tight twist to remove most of the milk.
- Pour the thin milk into a jar and save it for later use. (Use it in smoothies or for making rice or pancakes. If you really like coconut, just chill it and chug it!)
- Transfer the thick cream back to the bowl.
- Add your chosen starter and stir it in thoroughly. If you use probiotic capsules, pull them apart and sprinkle the powder on the cream, then stir.
- Cover the bowl (it should be secure but does not need to be completely air-tight), place it in a warm place like a microwave, oven, or top of refrigerator. (Note: Do not expose the mixture to direct heat or cook it at all.)
- Check the cheese after 12 hours. Use your senses. Sniff first: Does it smell pleasant? If there is any bad odor at all, there was some contamination at some point or the starter was not active. Discard and try again. Boil plenty of water and soak all equipment and tools carefully before the next batch. Read labels and expiration dates on your starter or try a different one. Now look at it. If your starter powder was pink like mine, for example, you may see some pink granules, but you should not see any mold or other discoloration. If it has separated or turned to liquid, the warm place is too warm—move it to the countertop. If it looks and smells good, taste it with a clean spoon (do not double dip!). If it is tangy rather than sweet like plain coconut milk, and you are pleased with the flavor, you’re done! If not, leave it to ferment more, checking it again in 12 hours. You can allow it to ferment for up to 36 hours total.
- When the cheese is done fermenting, stir it thoroughly and refrigerate it to fully thicken, about 4 hours minimum. It should be thick and creamy like cream cheese. (Note: If the mixture separates a little when cold, mix the liquid in so the cream cheese isn’t too dry. If it is grainy or chunky even after a good stirring and some warming at room temperature, use a different coconut cream next time because some varieties can take on that texture, unfortunately.)
- Add salt to taste and herbs or fruit. Store it in a dry, covered container in the refrigerator. Enjoy within 1 week.
Tip! Enjoy with flatbread or crisp cucumber and pepper slices.
If you want to serve the Cultured Cream Cheese like labneh, salt it generously (still to your taste, of course). Spread some in a shallow bowl. Drizzle with good extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with za’atar (thyme, sumac, and sesame seed blend)
More from One-Hour Dairy-Free Cheese:
Cover Courtesy of Workman Publishing
Excerpted from One-Hour Dairy-Free Cheese: Make Mozzarella, Cheddar, Feta, and Brie-Style Cheeses — Using Nuts, Seeds, and Vegetables by Claudia Lucero (Workman Publishing). Copyright © 2019. Photographs by Matthew Benson.