Halloumi (Frying Cheese of the Middle East)
Halloumi is one of my favorite cheeses, but have you ever wondered exactly what halloumi cheese is?
Halloumi cheese is said to have originated in Cyprus, most likely in Medieval Byzantyne times.
A very old dairy product indeed, and a good one that has obviously stood up to the test of time.
A cheese with a firm texture and unique quality that allows it to be grilled or fried, without melting away due to its high melting point.
Many people love halloumi, and include it in a lot of different things to eat.
What is Halloumi Cheese?
Known as the grilling cheese, halloumi cheese is very popular in the Middle East, and around the world.
Often fried in olive oil, halloumi has a high melting temperature allowing it to keep its shape.
In the cheesemaking process the curds are cooked at a high heat giving them the higher melting point.
Halloumi recipes can vary and can certainly be eaten raw, often served with salads, or eaten with bread.
It has a bit of a rubbery texture, with a salty flavor, and is traditionally flavored with mint leaves.
It’s this rubbery texture that can put some people off eating it raw, preferring fried halloumi.
Once grilled, halloumi becomes this delicious creamy and crunchy flavorsome bite!
Similar to mozzarella, halloumi is a brined cheese with a salty flavour.
To make halloumi cheese, the milk is heated then rennet or vegetarian rennet is added.
The curds are cooked at high temperature and then the cheese is flavored with mint leaves, pressed and soaked in brine.
It’s as simple as that to make, and it’s gluten free!
What Milk is Halloumi Made From?
The real traditional method is to manufacture halloumi from a mixture of goat and sheep milk.
Today it is much more common to come across this cheese made using cow’s milk instead.
This is most likely what you will come across on your supermarket shelf, mostly due to cost.
I prefer the goat, sheep blend, as this makes the frying, and flavor so much better.
We are used to consuming more products with goat or sheep milk in the Middle East, so I may be biased.
What is Halloumi Cheese Used For?
Used mainly for grilling and frying, this cheese is great in a variety of dishes.
It can add so much to salads, sandwiches, and anywhere other cheeses are used.
From cheese boards, canapes, to soups – this is a highly flexible cheese with loads of possibilities.
One of my preferred ways to eat it, is to just fry it in a pan and pair with some delicious taboon bread and olive oil.
Containing saturated fat, like many other cheeses, you will find halloumi cheese full of flavor.
This also means that for a healthy diet you should limit it to a portion of your meal.
But there is nothing like fat content to add flavor to what you are eating!
What To Use as a Substitute
Because of the durability of halloumi, a good substitute will need to have a high melting point.
This is to ensure you get a similar consistency that this cheese provides in dishes.
So cheeses like paneer, queso fresco, Nabulsi cheese and kasseri will best do the trick.
Even a good grilled pan feta could make a good replacement, but it will usually be significantly saltier.
How to Cook Halloumi Cheese
The most important tip I can give you when it comes to cooking halloumi cheese is to make sure your slices of halloumi are generous in their thickness.
If they are too thin, the cheese can melt more quickly and what you’ll be left with is a spread out mess of melted cheese.
Fried or grilled are usually the best ways to cook this cheese, but surprisingly it can also be baked.
When grilling the cheese, brush both sides with olive oil, and grill directly on the grill grate to achieve grill marks that will give the cheese a nice look.
Sometimes these little presentation tips can make all the difference.
Pan fried or thinly sliced, you will put oil in the pan and heat until hot at which point add the cheese and fry until golden brown on either side.
Frying in a griddle pan will also give distinctive marks to the cheese when serving, for an additional aesthetic look.
The Language of Halloumi
I always find it interesting in how food gets named, and what names stick, and which foods go by several different names.
Halloumi is a cheese that originated in Cyprus, and yet goes by an Arabic word from Egyptian Arabic.
The word haloum refers to a cheese that was eaten in Medieval Egypt, and comes from a word from Roman Egypt that meant cheese.
I’m sure the travelers to Ancient Cyprus found a white cheese and named it cheese in the language they were familiar with.
Or maybe it was already named haloum, due to the Cypriot Arabic language that was spoken on the Island.
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Thanks for your kind words! I’m delighted you love the recipes!