Ingredients: What is Halloumi Cheese?

Also spelt Haloumi, this cheese was originally a Middle Eastern Bedouin cheese made from ewes’ and sometimes goats’ milk. It is long-keeping, tough and salty which made it ideal for the Bedouin way of life. It became very popular and spread to the Middle East, to Greece and Cyprus and throughout the world.

The cheese is creamy white with a fibrous texture, and is firmer, less brittle and generally less salty than Feta. It can be sliced but not crumbled. Did you know that halloumi gains its special properties during the making when the moulded curds are dipped in hot water, kneaded (often with chopped mint), and then rolled out like pastry and cut into bars? It is either eaten soon after making or can be ripened for a month.

Although enjoyed in the Middle East when uncooked, Halloumi is fundamentally known as a cooking cheese. It has an amazing character that is revealed when it is heated.

Real Halloumi is made from ewes’ or goats’ milk but increasingly cows’ milk is being used, particularly with large scale production. This is done for financial reasons and they say that the resulting cheeses are inferior.

One of the places renown for Halloumi is Cyprus. For centuries Halloumi has been prepared there according to traditional recipes that are passed on from generation to generation. I read that Halloumi is a registered trademark certified by the European Union and no other country can produce this cheese, although it is made in Australia and the UK. I guess the trademark does not extend here.

Different halloumi’s taste quite different, and in fact cook up quite differently. Some are very salty and need to be washed before using to remove some of the salt. If the cheese is too salty then soak it in luke-warm water or milk before using to remove the excess salt.

Notes on Using Halloumi
  • Halloumi can be served fresh (uncooked), fried, baked, marinated, BBQ’d or grilled. Its unique property is that it does not melt in frying or grilling, but the outside becomes soft and crisp.
  • In the Lebanon it is known as kebab cheese, being cubed, skewered and grilled over charcoal on street stalls.
  • If thin slices of the cheese are placed in a hot non-stick pan, the outside will rapidly become crisp and golden brown, while the centre melts.
  • The cheese is excellent when served with salad, hummus and pitta bread.
  • Try a slice on a grilled mushroom sandwich, cubed on top of a salad, or sliced and grilled and served for breakfast.
  • Also experiment with it raw with fruit, as in this recipe. It can even be eaten for breakfast this way.
  • Grate it raw on top of pasta or rice.
  • An unopened packaged will keep refrigerated for a year and also can be frozen.

Browse our Halloumi recipes here and here and our Greek recipes here and here.

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