What the Heck is Labneh?

Confusing, for one thing. When Shape provided a recipe for Double-Lemon Labneh Cheesecake with Pistachio Crust in April 2020, the game was on. Cheesecake? Yes. Double-Lemon? How about Double-Yes? Pistachios? Nothing else compares. But what to make of this “Labneh” thing? Just what is that supposed to be?

The internet provided answers, though unsurprisingly, many of them were wrong. The first couple entries declared “labneh” to be nothing more than another word for Greek yogurt. The next few sources claimed it was different, but never mentioned in what way. Finally though, persistence paid off and revealed…

Labneh is Lebanese cream cheese, which starts as a creamy yogurt, then is salted lightly and is wrapped in cheesecloth. Eventually, the liquid (i.e., whey) wicks away, leaving behind something with cream cheese’s consistency, but slightly tangier and creamier. As none of the local markets carried labneh, the only other option was to go homemade, as instructed on The Mediterranean Dish website. To wit:

Here it is bundled and ready to go. A couple days in the fridge later, and 3/4 of a cup of whey lighter, here’s what emerged:

As mentioned, labneh is a bit richer and is slightly more tart than is standard cream cheese, making it the perfect ingredient for a lemon cheesecake. As it’s a bit smoother too, adding labneh and a little gelatin to the cream cheese yields a fluffy and silky, yet dense, custard.

Fortunate, as atop the cheesecake proper rests a bright sheet of lemony creaminess. Actually, it’s a lemon curd set to cohesion in the fridge. Its gets vibrant color thanks to egg yolks and lots of fresh lemon juice. Not just any lemons, either, but Meyer lemons. The juiciest, sweetest and most full-flavored of the yellow citruses.

Quite a topping, and quite a cheesecake in the middle too. Can the crust from which it all rises be anything less than magnificent? Good thing there’s splendor in simplicity, as the crust contains just three items: ground-up pistachios, sugar and butter. It has the consistency of a traditional graham cracker crust, but with a glancing richness that wraps up the tanginess tasted elsewhere.

Top the combination with a dollop of homemade whipped cream and sprinkle on chopped pistachios, and you’ve completed the perfect dessert.

Actually, it’s complete only when it’s enjoyed, and the “secret” ingredient, labneh, is what brings it together. Boasting a rich tanginess which unites all the other flavors, labneh is the MVP here. This article led off today with a question – what is it? Awesome, that’s what labneh is.


Double-Lemon Labneh Cheesecake with Pistachio Crust

For the crust:

  • 3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, plus more for brushing
  • 2 cups raw pistachios
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar

For the cheesecake:

  • 2 envelopes (1/4 ounce each) powdered gelatin
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cups labneh (*1)
  • 1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1-and-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon finely-grated lemon zest, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (*2)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For the lemon top:

  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (*2)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

For the whipped cream:

  • 1-and-1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Brush a 9-inch springform pan with butter, then make the crust.

Thus, in a food processor, pulse the pistachios and granulated sugar until they’re mostly-ground, but retain some texture. Add the melted butter and pulse until just combined. Cover the bottom of the springform pan with the mixture. Using the bottom of a measuring cup, press the crust firmly until it’s in an even layer.

Next move on to the cheesecake. In a small microwave-safe bowl, whisk the gelatin into the water. Let sit for a minute. Heat in the microwave, stirring every 10 seconds, until gelatin dissolves, about 30 seconds.

In a large bowl, and using an electric mixer, beat the labneh with the cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla and salt until smooth and well-combined. While beating, slowly pour in the gelatin mixture. Continue beating until well-combined.

Pour this filling over the crust in the springform pan, and smooth the top with an offset spatula. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm and well-chilled, at least 3 hours and, preferably, overnight.

About half an hour before the cheesecake is ready to emerge from the fridge, make the lemon top. In a small saucepan, whisk together the sugar, yolks and lemon juice. Place the sauce pan over a medium flame. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is combined and thickened (*3), about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, then add the butter, stirring until it’s melted.

Gently spoon the lemon mixture over the top of the cheesecake, then smooth it with an offset spatula. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set and well-chilled, at least an hour or, preferably, overnight.

When ready to serve, make the whipped cream. Into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (*4), beat the heavy cream, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla until firm peaks form. Run a table knife around the edges of he springform pan, then unlatch to release the cheesecake. Cut into wedges, dollop with whipped cream and sprinkle with chopped pistachios.


1 – If you can’t find labneh in the stores, don’t despair – you’re not alone. You still have two options at this point. Either substitute Greek yogurt, which is somewhat related, or…you can make your own labneh. It’s super-easy (recipe below) and there’s something satisfying about unwrapping the cheesecloth bundle to find something you oversaw!

2 – Regular lemons are fine, and, indeed, the original recipe was written with them in mind. However, Meyer lemons are that much better. Juicier and producing a more complex flavor, they are to other lemons what gold is to brass.

3 – The curd will transition from creamy, to firm, to seized-up, in remarkably quick succession, so watch it carefully. For one thing, in my experience, the curd is finished after about 3 minutes, not the 5 minutes the recipe indicates. Plus, the curd gets firm only about 15 seconds before it seizes up and gets lumpy. Therefore, as soon as the spoon starts meeting real resistance, remove the pan from the heat.

4 – When making whipped cream, it’s a good idea to freeze the mixing bowl and the whisk attachment for 30 minutes before using them. In doing this, the whipped cream will be fluffier and will retain its shape better.


Homemade Labneh

  • 2 pounds whole-milk yogurt
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl mix together the yogurt and the salt.

Line a colander with a double-thickness or, preferably, a triple-thickness, of cheesecloth, taking care some cheesecloth hangs over the colander’s entire perimeter. Using a rubber spatula, transfer the yogurt mixture onto the center of the cheesecloth, again, making sure plenty of cheesecloth remains on all sides.

Bring together the cheesecloth’s four corners and tie with kitchen twine into a bundle, getting the “neck” as far down as is practical. To see this principle illustrated, consult the first photo in the opening text.

Set the “bundle” back in the colander, which, in turn, is set over a large bowl. Refrigerate for 1 to 3 days, then unwrap.


7 thoughts on “What the Heck is Labneh?

    1. Thanks so much, Crystal! Glad to contribute the decadence.

      Hey, once you get that time machine working again, would you travel back a week or so to tell me what labneh is? How many mental resources were spent speculating about its identity? Pistachios, lemons and cheesecake inspired a weekend realizing the recipe, but labneh made for one Clueless Amateur.


  1. Fascinating! You got to make your very own bundle of awesomeness — and then turn it into something even more awesome. Of course, sounds like the whole process took quite a bit of waiting… But then, it also sounds like it’s worth it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Most definitely, Rachel, and thanks for the compliment!

      100% worth it, for sure. Greek yogurt went into the bundle Friday evening, then, overnight, it transformed itself into labneh. By Saturday morning it was ready to go. Glad to have persisted beyond the fibs the internet told me initially.


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