Any visitor to Cyprus will have at least seen it on the menu, even if they haven’t been brave enough to try it. We’re talking about Halloumi cheese, the traditional cheese of Cyprus.
You may think that feta, or fetta as it’s sometimes spelt is traditional of the island but instead the homeland of feta cheese is Greece.
Cyprus has its own cheeses with Anari the less popular one but if you’re enjoying a meze or buying a stuffed pita bread, especially a vegetarian one then Halloumi will be more commonly found in it than cheddar.
Now Halloumi has a unique texture and equally unique properties; some call it ‘squeaky cheese’ for when you bite it, the cheese squeaks! It’s also unusual amongst cheeses in having a high melting point so it doesn’t cook like normal cheese might, instead, caramelising on the outside, releasing moisture as it cooks and taking on an initial soft fluffiness before setting again into the squeaky cheese aficionados love.
So what makes Halloumi so special and different?
For a start it’s made from mainly sheep’s milk with a little goat milk thrown in. It’s believed the original recipe began with the Bedouin tribes of the Middle East but the cheese is documented in Cyprus
before the start of the 16th century.
It originated from the need to keep dairy products fresh but without today’s refrigeration. It’s the process that helps preserve the cheese and it’s made as follows…
The milk is heated to 32C before rennet is added. The mixture is kept at 32C for forty minutes. During this time the cheese sets into curds and whey. Cutting the curd into cubes releases the whey and the temperature is increased, releasing more whey from the curd. The curd is now sifted out, squeezed dry of any remaining whey and then the whey is increased in temperature to 90C before the squeezed curd discs are put back into the hot whey.
After forty minutes the cheese is cooked and is removed from the whey and sprinkled with salt to preserve it and then it’s folded over mint leaves. With a higher salt coating the cheese will keep out of the fridge, less salt means more need of refrigeration. And after waiting patiently for five days it’s ready to use!