All About Halloumi Cheese
In the United States, Halloumi is one of the most popular grilling cheeses. Halloumi has gained popularity for its unique chewy texture and the ability to hold its shape when grilled or fried. It has become a favorite among those looking for a cheese that can be easily incorporated into grilling recipes. Other cheeses, like queso fresco or paneer, are also used for grilling in American cuisine, but halloumi stands out as a particularly popular choice for its unique grilling properties.
However, not all halloumi is created equal. A lot of the halloumi sold in USA is not real halloumi.
What is real halloumi?
Halloumi cheese is a semi-hard cheese preferably made with sheep and/or goat milk. Although popular worldwide, halloumi originated in Cyprus. In EU an authentic Cypriot halloumi bears the mark of a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) granted by the European Union. This ensures that only halloumi produced in Cyprus following specific guidelines can be labeled and sold as "halloumi" within the EU. In the USA you may find imported halloumi without the seal. Rule of thumb is to look for authentic Cypriot imports like our favorite - Idalio Halloumi - now also available in our e-shop.
How is real halloumi made?
Real halloumi is traditionally made using a specific process that involves curdling milk, pressing the curds, and then brining the cheese. The following is a basic outline of how real halloumi is made:
Ingredients: Real halloumi cheese is traditionally made from a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk as a base (cow's milk may also be used by some producers but it is not a preferred choice), rennet or other coagulant, to curdle the milk and form curds, and salt for flavoring. Traditional halloumi is made using animal rennet. However, nowadays, there are vegetarian-friendly versions available that use microbial or vegetable rennet.
A labor of love - traditional halloumi preparation in Idalio Foods, Cyprus
Process: The process starts by heating milk to a specific temperature and by adding rennet or another coagulant to the milk to initiate curdling. Once the curds have formed, they are cut into small pieces, and they are left to drain so they can separate from the whey. Following on, the drained curds are pressed together to form a solid block. This is what gives the cheese its characteristic texture. Next, the pressed cheese is then immersed in a brine solution (water and salt), typically for hours but it might last a couple days, giving the cheese its salty taste. Lastly, the halloumi is shaped into blocks or discs and it can be stored and aged for a short period. Halloumi may be ripened which makes it harder and drier as well as more salty. Traditional halloumi used to be made this way but nowadays fresh, softer and milder halloumi became more popular.
How is halloumi cooked?
While it is delicious in its raw form, grilling brings out its delicious smoky flavor. Halloumi’s high melting point makes it suitable for grilling or frying without losing its shape or becoming sticky or stringy. When cooked, halloumi develops a crispy golden crust while maintaining a soft and slightly chewy interior. It has a distinctive, savory taste and is often used in salads, sandwiches, soups (like croutons but tastier) or simply enjoyed on its own or as part of meze.
How healthy is halloumi?
Halloumi is a great source of protein and calcium, but like many cheeses, it’s important to consume in moderation due to its calorie, sodium and fat content. While some saturated fats and salts are a normal part of a balanced diet, excessive intake can contribute to cardiovascular issues, high blood pressure and other health concerns so it's advisable to be mindful of overall intake. It’s good to keep in mind that cooking methods can impact the overall healthiness of each dish.
Can you eat halloumi on a low sodium diet?
If you are on a low-sodium diet, moderation is key. Being a cheese that is brined during its production, it does have a relatively high sodium content. There are some ways to enjoy halloumi more while on a low-sodium diet. You can choose halloumi brands or varieties that have lower sodium content and be extra mindful when it comes to the portion sizes. If you’re looking for something more effective, you can always make your own homemade halloumi so you can have more control over the ingredients or you can try rinsing or, even better, soaking the cheese in water before serving.
How to soak halloumi
Start by cutting the halloumi into the desired size (smaller pieces absorb water more effectively) and then place the haloumi pieces into a bowl of water ensuring that they are fully submerged. Allow the halloumi to soak for at least 30 minutes, preferably 1-2 hours for better results. If you are aiming for a more thorough reduction of sodium, you can also change the water a couple of times. After soaking, remove the halloumi from the water and allow it to drain.
It's important to note that while soaking halloumi can help reduce its sodium content to some extent, it won’t eliminate it entirely. Also, the flavor and texture of the cheese may be affected, so it's a compromise between lowering sodium intake and maintaining the original characteristics of halloumi.
Halloumi in Cyprus & worldwide
Around the world Halloumi is featured in dishes ranging from salads and wraps to tacos and even soups, fruit and desserts. It may not have reached the levels of popularity of Greek Feta. However, it's renowned worldwide and used in a variety of cuisines beyond its traditional Mediterranean roots. As a result, it is an important staple in Cyprus' economy - not just its cuisine. In 2023 Cyprus' Halloumi cheese exports accounted for 20% of the total export value of Cypriot products. It is easy to understand why Cypriots cherish it and strive to protect it. Every year Cyprus hosts a Halloumi Festival to celebrate the cheese! The festival includes many activities like tastings, cooking demonstrations, games and various events showcasing halloumi in creative ways.
Never had a taste of real Cyprus halloumi? Stop by our Midtown Manhattan store and try a halloumi sandwich, in pita or add to your Mediterranean bowl. Be sure to also try our air-fried halloumi stix - we may be biased but we think they're the best thing since French fries!