Halloumi (or hallumi) is a Cypriot semi-hard, unripened brined cheese made from a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk, and sometimes also cow’s milk. It has a high melting point and so can easily be fried or grilled. Halloumi is set with rennet and is unusual in that no acid or acid-producing bacterium is used in its preparation.
Halloumi is popular in the Levant, Greece and Turkey. It has recently become very popular in the United Kingdom.
Halloumi cheese originated in Cyprus and was initially made during the Medieval Byzantine period (AD 395 – 1191), by the local Greek population, subsequently gaining popularity throughout the Middle East region.
The cheese is white, with a distinctive layered texture, similar to mozzarella and has a salty flavour. It is stored in its natural juices with salt-water and can keep for up to a year if frozen below −18 °C (0 °F) and defrosted to +4 °C (39 °F) before sale. It is often garnished with mint to add to the taste. Traditionally, the mint leaves were used as a preservative, this practice arising from the serendipitous discovery that halloumi kept better and was fresher and more flavoursome when wrapped with mint leaves. In accordance with this tradition, many packages of halloumi contain fragments of mint leaves on the surface of the cheese.
The cheese is often used in cooking and can be fried until brown without melting, owing to its higher-than-normal melting point. This makes it an excellent cheese for frying or grilling (e.g. in Saganaki) or fried and served with vegetables, or as an ingredient in salads. Cypriots like eating halloumi with watermelon in the warm months, and as halloumi and lountza – a combination of halloumi cheese and either a slice of smoked pork, or a soft lamb sausage.
The resistance to melting comes from the fresh curd being heated before being shaped and placed in brine. Traditional halloumi is a semicircular shape, about the size of a large wallet, weighing 220–270 g. The fat content is approximately 25% wet weight, 47% dry weight with about 17% protein. Its firm texture when cooked causes it to squeak on the teeth when being chewed.
Traditional halloumi is made from unpasteurised sheep and goat milk. Many people also like halloumi that has been aged; kept in its own brine, it is much drier, much stronger and much saltier. This cheese is very different from the milder halloumi that Western chefs use as an ingredient.
Halloumi is registered as a protected Cypriot product within the United States (since the 1990s) but not yet in the European Union. The delay in registering the name halloumi with the EU has been largely due to a conflict between dairy producers and sheep and goat farmers as to whether registered halloumi will contain cow’s milk or not and if so, at what ratios with sheep and goat’s milk. Most Cypriots agree that, traditionally, halloumi was made from sheep and goat milk, since there were few cows on the island until they were brought over by the British in the 20th century. But as demand grew, industrial cheese-makers began pouring more of the cheaper and more-plentiful cow’s milk into their caldrons. If it is registered as a PDO (Protected designation of origin), it would receive similar status as 600 or so other agricultural products such as feta and Parmesan cheese.
Buying, Storing and Substitutes
- Buying and storing – Halloumi is sold in packets in the cheese cabinet at supermarkets.
- Store haloumi in brine in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
- If you live near a Latin American store it may be worth trying Queso Para Frier (or “frying cheese”) or Queso Blanco. They have similar cooking qualities to halloumi and do not melt when heated so can be fried or grilled.
- Feta – has a similar flavour
- Mozzarella – has a similar texture
- Made from pasteurised or unpasteurized cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s milk
- Country of origin: Cyprus
- Region: Middle East
- Family: Pasta filata
- Type: semi-soft, artisan, brined
- Texture: chewy, creamy, firm and springy
- Rind: rindless
- Colour: white
- Flavour: salty, savory, tangy
- Aroma: strong