Flavors of Morocco
Jben is a Moroccan fresh cheese, similar to ricotta although the preparation it is slightly different, producing a smoother creamier texture and a slight sour note similar to a chevre. Wonderful spread on lightly toasted kisra (bread) slathered with honey for breakfast, with the ubiquitous Moroccan sweet mint tea…anytime, or served along with a Moroccan meal of savory tagines, couscous, or an assortment of small side dishes filled with a seasoned Jben.
Use your imagination and Jben will find its way into your cooking repertoire with applications far beyond the flavors of Morocco.
Jben: makes about 3 cups
- 1 liter (1 quart) whole milk or goats milk
- 1 liter (1 quart) buttermilk (cold)
- 2 cups sour cream
- 1 teaspoon sea salt (or more for a saltier cheese)
- 1-2 teaspoons herbs (optional)
If you are making your own buttermilk, prepare this ahead of time and refrigerate to chill.
Buttermilk is easy to make at home and especially handy when a recipe calls for it and there is none in your refrigerator!
- 1 liter whole milk (or 1 quart)
- 5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (or vinegar)
Pour the milk in a non-reactive bowl and add the lemon juice (or vinegar). Allow to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes and then refrigerate if not using immediately.
Heat the whole milk until it is just about to simmer. You do not want the milk to boil! Pour the warm milk into the cold buttermilk and then stir in the sour cream. Add the salt and gently stir to combine all the ingredients and set aside for 20 minutes to cool to room temperature and then cover with plastic film and set it aside in a non-drafty place, do not refrigerate, for 24 hours. The ingredients will curdle and thicken.
Line a large colander (or two smaller) with a double layer of cheese cloth and set over a bowl to collect the whey as it drains. Ladle the curd mixture into the lined colander and set aside to drain, emptying the whey in the bowl below so that it does not touch the draining curd above. Set aside for several hours. Do not refrigerate!
Once enough of the whey has drained out you can gather the cheese cloth together at the top, creating a tight ball of cheese. Tie the top tightly with string and hang up to continue to drain with a bowl set underneath to collect the whey. I rig up the cheese bundles hanging from the top rack of a dual level dish rack.
Allow to drain about twelve hours ,do not refrigerate, so that most of the whey has drained out and the cheese is firm. To extract additional whey, place fingers around the top of the cheese bundle and apply downward pressure to force excess whey out of the cheese. Then remove the hanging bundles and place them on their sides in a colander and apply some pressure with fingers for additional draining. Turn them over after about an hour, again applying pressure, and drain an additional hour.
The cheese will now be quite firm. Untie the bundles and remove the cheese to a large bowl and toss with a fork. If you are adding dried herbs mix them into the cheese and then place the cheese in an airtight container or molds, which can be ramekins, small bowls, or other mold shapes lined with plastic film. The film will make it easy to unmold the cheese when you are ready to serve.
Seal the storage bowl or tops of the molds with plastic film and refrigerate. The cheese will keep for at least one week under refrigeration.