The Unbeatable, Unmeltable Appeal of Halloumi. I fell in love with halloumi while researching my latest cookbook, Ripe Figs, in Cyprus. Halloumi is a semi-hard, unripened, and brined cheese that is arguably the island’s most famous culinary export and—with all due respect to the fresh Wisconsin cheese curd—unquestionably the world’s most popular squeaky cheese. Halloumi has been prepared in Cyprus for generations, and in the past, towns from all over the island collaborated to make big amounts, with regional recipes changing from town to town. Today, last names like Hallumas, Halluma, and Hallumakis can be found on the Greek side of the island, as a homage to the role that particular family played in halloumi manufacture.
Halloumi is a common component in the Eastern Mediterranean, where it has been prepared for almost a millennium in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. No country, however, has embraced it as enthusiastically as the Cypriots have. Halloumi is eaten in a variety of ways in Cyprus, including for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. To serve as an appetizer, the cheese is dipped in cornmeal, fried, and drizzled with honey; shredded and mixed with dried mint and cinnamon, then filled into squares of ravioli; kneaded into plump batons of olive bread; and crumbled into slices of ice-cold watermelon in Cyprus (the latter, in my mind, being the most refreshing snack you can have on a hot summer day).
Halloumi is a cheese that satisfies the senses on many levels, thanks to its springy, chewy texture and mild flavour (similar to queso fresco) but the salty flavour (due to being brined). This is no question why halloumi salads, halloumi croutons, and halloumi burgers have become popular throughout the world. Yotam Ottolenghi, a chef, and author have even incorporated the cheese into baklava with cinnamon and walnuts as a last meal. Halloumi’s firm texture makes it a wonderful meat alternative, especially when seared and given a wisp of smoke on the grill, at a time when many people are trying to cut down on their meat consumption.
Halloumi is made by heating milk twice: once to separate the curds and whey, and then again to cook the curds in the whey, which solidifies them. This gives the cheese its distinctive texture and high melting point, ensuring that it retains its shape when heated, making it ideal for grilling or frying. While halloumi can be eaten raw, it is best when cooked because it develops its distinctive squeaky and stretchy texture.
When buying halloumi, there are a few things to look for regardless of how you prepare it. The halloumi was traditionally prepared with sheep and goat milk, but cow milk is increasingly being substituted or added, giving the cheese a milder flavour. Look for cheeses with a larger percentage of sheep and goat milk in the packaging for a richer, more pungent flavour. You should also avoid the low-fat variations of this cheese. What you lose in fat, you lose in flavour, and halloumi relies on that extra fat for its stretchy texture.
The greatest way to enjoy halloumi, regardless of the sort you buy, is to appreciate its versatility. It can be used to stuff a spanakopita pie with wild greens, make skinny fries (move over, mozzarella sticks! ), top a lasagna (try adding a layer of sliced halloumi on top of the béchamel), or grate into bread dough. The mix of salty halloumi, cold dried mint, and fragrant nigella seeds was the ideal introduction to the island’s food, and it reaffirmed in my view that halloumi’s potential is genuinely limitless.