Seasonal Cooking 11 Mar 2011 05:43 pm
On line at Ronnybrook Dairy’s greenmarket booth last week a woman waxed euphoric about how delicious was their yogurt cheese and how much she missed it. Uncharacteristically I kept my mouth shut and didn’t butt in to say how easily she could make it for herself at home.
“Yogurt cheese” is just yogurt that’s been drained and pressed to give it a thick, spreadable consistency. I use it like cream cheese as a spread on banana bread or scones or biscuits for a quick breakfast. Unlike cream cheese it’s spreadable at fridge temperature. And it’s got all those famous yogurt health benefits in place of the stabilizers and preservatives needed to hold together a package of Kraft’s Philadelphia brand. I think it tastes better too: fresher, brighter, less gummy. Its tangy flavor is less neutral than cream cheese though, so it may not be ideal for some of those favorite cream cheese recipes.
To make it you need a large piece of cheese cloth, a colander, and something heavy – say, a big can of tomato sauce. Lay the cheese cloth in two or three layers inside the colander, leaving plenty of overhang at the colander’s edges. Set the colander over a large bowl and pour 1 quart of plain yogurt onto the cheesecloth. Take one of the overhanging edges and lay it flat over the yogurt; repeat with the remaining edges so that the yogurt is completely covered. Set a small plate on top of the folded cheesecloth and set the weight on top of the plate. Set aside and allow to drain for 3 or 4 hours or overnight in the fridge. Remove the yogurt cheese from the cheesecloth and keep it in a sealed container in the fridge. (I still haven’t figured out what to do with the sour whey that drains off. It’s got to be good for something.)
Mostly, I’ve eaten the unflavored yogurt cheese as-is, relying on the scone or banana bread underneath it to supply the extra tastiness. The possibilities for flavorings are endless though. I mixed maple syrup and finely chopped walnuts into one batch with great success, and I sweetened another batch with some chopped farm-canned apricots. Simply spreading the unflavored cheese on toast and topping it with a layer of marmalade works great too. Vanilla and honey are flavorings I haven’t tried yet but that surely would work very nicely. And what about savory flavors? Roasted garlic? Sure! Curry powder? Why not? And I’ll bet a handful of chopped dill would make it ready for that ultimate cream-cheese-replacement test: lox. Stay tuned to see if it works!