One of my favorite cheese puns is a joke about Halloumi:
“What does cheese say when it looks in the mirror?”
I’m not just a fan of this pun because it teaches you how to pronounce the name of a cheese that is obviously sassy and feeling itself, but also because it is about a cheese as relatively obscure as Halloumi.
I have customers come in looking for Halloumi far more often than you would expect. Nine times out of ten, they have no idea how to pronounce the name—but I know exactly what they are looking for. If they struggle, I encourage them to just call it grilling cheese. After all, in German we call it just that: Grillkäse (pronounced “grill-kay-suh”)—literally, ‘grill cheese.’
Halloumi is great because it doesn’t melt. You can heat it up, char it, get it hot and gooey, but it will not collapse and spill its guts. You can grill it, broil it, sautee it, you name it; the cheese can be used as an ingredient, or it can stand on its own. (My favorite method is grilling it and eating it plain—hot goodness.)
I’m not entirely sure to what we can attribute the local surge in popularity of this little Cyprusian cheese, but I’m going to guess that the answer lies in gluten-free, ketogenic, and Mediterranean diet fads.
Halloumi is part of the cultural heritage of Cyprus, an island off the coast of Greece that is partially autonomous and partially Turkish in its governance. Despite the complicated politics of modern-day Cyprus, Halloumi is the island’s most prominent agricultural product.[i]
Traditionally, Halloumi was made with a mixture of sheep’s and goat’s milk—although there were also versions made strictly from one or the other. Today cow’s milk is often cut into that mixture to meet international tastes, as the cheese is widely exported throughout Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas.[ii] (My favorite version is a pure goat’s milk Halloumi made by Lost Peacock Creamery here in Washington state.)
Like so many other European cheeses, there are rules dictating how Halloumi is made. Cypress Organization for Standardization regulates production of Halloumi, stating in its codex that Halloumi can be made from sheep’s or goat’s milk, or a combination of the two, with or without the addition of cow’s milk, and that the cheese can also contain rennet, salt, and mint.[iii]
Halloumi is not made with the addition of starter cultures. To make the cheese, you coagulate the milk, quickly press the curds, and then heat-treat the curds in de-proteinated whey before aging the cheese in a whey brine for a minimum of 40 days. [iv]
Because the curds are briefly pressed before being dipped in hot whey, Halloumi has a rigid protein matrix that does not give way when it is heated—which means that Halloumi, like Paneer, bread cheese, and Queso Fresco, will not melt.[v]
So you can cut strips of Halloumi, pan-fry them, and dip them in marinara sauce as gluten-free “mozzarella sticks.” You can cover it in spices and broil it beneath a bed of asparagus for a spring-time treat. Or you can throw it on the grill and gnaw on hunks of it in between grilling ears of corn, hamburgers, and spring onions.
You can also eat Halloumi without cooking it; then it is a fresh, squeaky, slightly salty cheese that goes well with melons or firm stone fruits like plums and pluots. You can even grate Halloumi over salads or pasta dishes to add that salty, milky flavor. Google “Halloumi recipes,” and you will find pages upon pages of ideas.
There are quite a few applications for Halloumi—the cheese that is just begging for you to let it take over your kitchen.
[i] Papedemas, Photis. “Halloumi.” Oxford Companion to Cheese, ed. Catherine Donnelly. Oxford University Press: New York, 2016. 341.
[v] Caldwell, Gianaclis. “Why don’t Halloumi and other grilling cheeses melt?” Culture Magazine, 28 June, 2017. Online. culturecheesemag.com/ask-the-monger/dont-halloumi-grilling-cheeses-melt. Accessed 28 April 2019. <<https://culturecheesemag.com/ask-the-monger/dont-halloumi-grilling-cheeses-melt>>.