Cheese is ready to hit the grill for this weekend’s traditional start of the grilling season. Admittedly, the notion of cheese, alone, on the grill can puzzle even the most experienced grill masters. Won’t it just melt through the grates? The easiest answer to that is: Halloumi. Halloumi cheese is among a unique group of cheeses that can take the heat with their exceptionally high melting point. A melting point so high that these cheeses can take the heat of the grill (or frying pan) and brown, but not burn.
Outwardly, this cheese looks like a lumpy brick of mozzarella. Bright white in color, shiny and wet from its preservative brine. The physical texture of the cheese is firm, slightly springy – somewhat similar to that of mozzarella or thick feta. What I like best about Halloumi is that it squeaks. Well, not without you, but served cold on its own or in a watermelon salad, the cheese will literally squeak against your teeth. Try it. It’s agreeable.
Less agreeable is the origin of Halloumi. Bedouin, Cypriot or Greek? Each culture claims ownership. Similarly, no agreement of what constitutes the makeup of the cheese has been determined. Halloumi has historically been made from a mixture of sheep and goat’s milk, though cow’s milk has started to show up in some versions of this cheese. Both the proportion and types of milk are disputed. Then, there is the tradition of rolling the cheese in dried mint which is present in some versions, but not in others. Even so, there is agreement that “authentic” Halloumi is only made on the island of Cyprus off the coast of Greece. To avoid getting political, we can safely say that Halloumi cheese has quite a history.
The process of cheese making for Halloumi is more linear. A process that includes scalding of the curds and no acid (or acid-producing bacterium) is common. The resulting higher PH is the secret to Halloumi’s ability to withstand heat. Moreover, the cheese is preserved in brine. Brine that imparts a strong, salty flavor when served cold or by cooking the Halloumi, removes all its saltiness and empowers it with a creamy texture.
So what to do with this historical cheese? Halloumi is generally served during the warmer months with watermelon, due to its refreshing qualities. It is an essential part of a Mediterranean diet. My favorite Halloumi recipe is to grill it, place it on a bed of crisp lettuce, drizzle it with olive oil, sprinkle it with capers, and finish it off with a quick squeeze of lemon. Served with a cold beer it’s a perfect meal to savor and reflect on the true meaning of Memorial Day.
Sounds like a great plan for this weekend!