In Defense of Halloumi

Halloumi has been on my radar for a while now. In truth, it’s not a cheese I was real familiar with because its biggest sales pitch is that it doesn’t melt much. That seemed an oxymoron. Why bother? I’m usually looking for those that are either very hard, fresh, or get all gooey.

But from a cheesemaking point of view, it becomes far more interesting. Halloumi is a fairly basic cheese to make:  set the curds, form into a manageable flat shape, and briefly press to tighten the structure. Then, it goes through a heat process that raises the melting point. It’s salted and often held in a brine solution.

Fresh Halloumi

You are rewarded with a chewy cheese with a fresh mild flavor, a charming squeakiness, and a salty component. Now that is quite a package and enough to challenge feta! Halloumi retains its best qualities when eaten hot or warm. With a little imagination it can easily become the major protein point in a meal.

More good news. Halloumi heats fast while turning golden brown in short order. My latest experiment included cubes as part of a skewered mixture of fast cooking vegetables.

Halloumi Skewers

For even cooking it’s best to select smaller sized mushrooms and cherry tomatoes, and cut sweet onion, pepper, and summer squash into shapes similar in size to the halloumi.  Marinate all in an herbal vinaigrette for 20-30 minutes.

Once skewered and set in a lightly oiled skillet over medium heat  watch carefully and turn, as they brown in 2-3 minutes per side.  I served mine on a bed of warm ley puy lentils along with a few greens, olives, etc.—with warm naan bread and more olive oil for drizzling. Splendid.

Halloumi and Lentils

More info on le puy lentils and a light vinaigrette can be found at Soup and Salad. For those interested, my simplified Halloumi recipe follows, inspired by Gavin Webber’s helpful Halloumi video on YouTube. 

Halloumi

Resized and inspired by Gavin Webber video

Ingredients
10 cups whole milk, homogenized, not ultra-pasteurized
¼ tsp liquid rennet, dilute in ¼ cup water
¼ cup coarse sea salt, approx.

Directions

  1. Heat milk to 86-90° F. Add rennet, stir gently up and down for 1 minute. Cover and rest 30-45 mins to set. Check for a clean break.
  2. To cut curds, cut into ½” cubes with long knife. Rest 5-10 mins to heal the curds.
  3. Slowly heat whey to 104°F, allow about 30 mins. Gently stir curds to keep from matting. Maintain heat for 20 mins; stir occasionally as curds will shrink. Remove pot from heat, cover and rest 10 mins to allow curds to sink.
  4. Drain whey into cheesecloth lined colander, with pot or bowl under to save whey. Wrap with cheesecloth and shape into a ball. Squeeze liquid from curd; turn out with cloth onto large board.
  5. To shape, press and weight, flatten the curd into approx. 1” thick oval, wrap with cloth to firmly hold shape and cover with 2nd board. Weight on top with filled 1 gallon jug for 10 minutes. Turn the flatten curd over, cover with board and press for 20 mins more.
  6. Meanwhile, prepare a draining rack and drainable mat as a holding area.
  7. Cut flattened curd mass into 4 or more wedges.
  8. Heat whey in pot to 180-200° F, skim any detritus (save 2-4 cups for brine). Remove from heat, place curd wedges in near boiling whey and cover until they begin to float, 20-45 mins. If some do not float reheat the whey. Place the cooked wedges on mat to drain a few minutes.
  9. Sprinkle each halloumi wedge all over with ½ tsp fine sea salt. Place on mat to drain 2-4 hours.
  10. For brine, dissolve 2 Tbsp coarse sea salt in 4 cups whey (can be cut with half distilled water).
  11. Store halloumi in closed container, zip lock bag, or covered in brine for up to 60 days. Flavors improve with age.
  12. To fry halloumi, heat skillet over medium heat with a light layer of olive oil. Cook halloumi pieces until golden brown, 2-3 minutes per side.

Cheese Synergy

On the page, there is really nothing very remarkable about this cheese.  Paneer is a bland cheese made popular in Indian cuisine. It is a vehicle designed to bring dishes to life through its absorption of complex spice and flavor combinations.

Paneer is one of the easiest and most rewarding in my (fairly limited) repertoire of homemade cheeses. You can have your cheese fix in three hours.

Spiced Paneer

Bring some milk to a boil, add the juice of a couple of lemons to expedite the curdling process, and you are on your way. In all of its simplicity, this cow’s milk variety is reminiscent of a highly crafted goat cheese. No, it is not a creamy cheese, and oddly, its mouth feel is slightly dry.

But if you take a few exotic spices and throw them into the mix, something happens.  It could be that I am a huge fan of coriander seeds… give it another dimension with red pepper flakes and freshly ground black pepper.  Add a little fresh garlic chives, a nice dash of salt and that is it.

Once it drains and curds form, press briefly to mold it into shape. Give it a quick chill to solidify and allow flavors to blend.  If you can wait, it’s even better the next day!

Yes, paneer is a real team player. You could say Spiced Paneer is a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.  It needs nothing else… maybe a cracker or two.

Spiced Paneer

Inspired by Panfusion’s Spiced Paneer @ Food52.com

Ingredients
½ gallon whole milk (preferably not ultra-pasteurized)
20 black peppercorns crushed well
2 tablespoons freshly crushed coriander seeds
2 dried chile peppers, seeded, crushed
½ cup lemon juice
2 teaspoon sea salt
1-2 teaspoons garlic chives, chopped
Tools: colander, flat spatula, cheesecloth

Instructions

  1. Rinse a large pot with water and pour in the milk; add the peppercorns and coriander, and place it over medium high heat. Stirring with a flat bottom spatula, bring to a full boil.  Gently stir in the lemon juice and remove from heat.  Let stand undisturbed to allow it to separate into curds, which will take about 10 minutes. Meanwhile line a colander with cheesecloth and place it over a bowl to catch the whey.
  2. Pour the curdled mixture into the cheesecloth lined colander and allow to drain. When the liquid has drained through, carefully, bring the corners of the cloth together to bring the curds together in a mass, drain for 10-20 minutes longer.
  3. When the curds have stopped dripping, give it a good squeeze to remove any further whey. Gently stir in the salt and redistribute any spices that may have shifted to the bottom.
  4. Shape the mass into a flat round or oval and firmly rewrap in the cheesecloth. Set the cheese on a drainable surface (like a sushi mat) and weigh it down with a heavy pot filled with water or a couple of cans. Let it stand undisturbed at room temperature for 2 hours.
  5. Remove the cheesecloth and gently reshape the cheese into an attractive log or oval.  Cover with clean cheesecloth and firmly wrap with plastic wrap.  Chill for 2 hours or preferably overnight to allow the paneer to solidify. Yield: about 10 oz.