Jben is Morocco's version of fresh cheese. It hails from the Rif Mountain region in the north of the country but is also enjoyed elsewhere, where it is prepared at home or available commercially. Jben is popular as a spread for bread at breakfast or tea time and as a filling for , but it may be added to other dishes as well, or used in place of other fresh cheese.
When traveling in the north of Morocco, it's quite common to find jben for sale as pictured here, shaped into a disc by pressing it into a mold lined with palm leaves. The cheese can be purchased in markets, along rural roadsides, and from street vendors. Jben will vary a bit from seller to seller in terms of texture and flavor – firm or crumbly, salted or unsalted, moist or dry. Herbs may be added for variety.
As with other fresh cheeses, jben is quite easy to prepare. Either goat or cow milk may be used. Although I've found some recipes which use liquid rennet as a coagulator, lben, or buttermilk, is the preferred modern home method. A little lemon juice or vinegar may also be added, but it's not necessary.
Note that you'll need cheesecloth for draining the whey from the cheese. Also try making Homemade Ricotta, another fresh cheese.
- 4 cups/1 liter milk (whole)
- 4 cups/1 liter buttermilk (or thick sour milk)
- Optional: 2 cups/1/2 liter cream (heavy)
- 1 pinch of salt (or 1 teaspoon salt for salted jben)
- Optional: thyme or garlic (fresh)
- Heat the milk and salt (and cream, if using) in a saucepan until barely a simmer. Remove from the heat and stir in the buttermilk. Leave the mixture to curdle for at least an hour. (Or, cover the mixture with plastic and leave to rest overnight.)
- Line a sieve or colander with a large piece of cheesecloth and place the colander over a large bowl. Pour the curdled mixture into the sieve. If necessary, empty out the whey (see tip below) that collects in the bowl so that it doesn't make contact with the bottom of the colander.
- Gather the cheesecloth around the cheese and leave the cheese to drain for several hours (or as long as overnight in the fridge) to make a cheese as dry and/or as thick as you like. Remove the cheese from the cheesecloth. If adding any herbs, gently combine them with the cheese. Shape the jben by hand or in a mold for a nicer presentation. Serve immediately, or chill for up to several days.
Tip: Discard the whey or save it to use as your liquid when making bread and other yeast doughs.