One of the hallmarks of decadently delicious food is a rich and creamy texture, but all too often the price for that luxurious lusciousness is high fat and soaring calorie counts. The solution? Homemade yogurt cheese to the rescue.
Yogurt cheese is the thick, smooth, spreadable product that results when the whey or liquid is drained from yogurt. Yogurt cheese can be substituted for dairy sour cream or cream cheese in most recipes, including desserts; draining off the whey goes a long way toward reducing the tangy tartness of yogurt. And though you'll never taste the difference, you'll be significantly reducing the fat and calories in your dish.
The process of making yogurt cheese is simple enough for anyone to do, and though yogurt cheese makers are commercially available, it actually requires nothing more specific or sophisticated than a colander or strainer, a couple of coffee filters or paper towels, and a bowl. If you have those items (and what kitchen doesn't?) and a container of yogurt, you're all set to make cheese.
Start With The Right Yogurt
This is the only step that could possibly pose a problem; if you start with the right base ingredient making yogurt cheese is practically foolproof, but if you start with the wrong kind of yogurt you'll almost certainly be disappointed with the results.
It doesn't really matter whether you choose to make your cheese with regular, low-fat, or no-fat yogurt (though the less fat you start with, the leaner and more diet-friendly your yogurt cheese will be). It also doesn't matter whether you use plain or flavored yogurt, though flavored yogurts are generally sweetened and often carry a higher calorie count.
What really matters is that the yogurt you start with does not contain gelatin, which binds the whey to the yogurt and basically thwarts the whole cheese making process. Choose your yogurt with this in mind; if there is gelatin in the yogurt, it will say so on the label.
Assemble Your Tools
There's nothing difficult about making yogurt cheese, and that includes assembling your equipment. If you have a strainer large enough to hold your yogurt, that's great, but if you don't, just haul out the colander you use to strain your spaghetti.
You need to line your strainer or colander with something fine enough to keep the yogurt solids contained but let the whey run through. Coffee filters are excellent, but paper towels or even a clean cotton kitchen towel work perfectly too.
The only other piece of equipment you need is a bowl for the whey to drain into. Experiment until you've found one that your colander or strainer can sit on without touching bottom - this is important because you want the whey to drain away and not be reabsorbed.
Ready, set .... cheese!
From here it couldn't be any simpler: set your lined strainer atop the bowl and dump in the yogurt. Cover and refrigerate for six to 24 hours, and you're done. What could be easier than that?
How long to wait depends on how solid you want your final product to be. If you're planning to use your yogurt cheese as a substitute for sour cream, you probably want a softer product; depending on the brand of yogurt you start with, draining for eight or ten hours will give you a consistency very like sour cream. If you want a product that's more along the lines of cream cheese, just let your yogurt drain for a longer time.
When your yogurt cheese has reached the consistency you want, simply remove it from the strainer and it's ready to use. If you don't plan to use it immediately, you can store it in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container for several days.