August 9, 2019

Cheesemaking: Halloumi

My daughter had the opportunity to visit Israel earlier this summer. When she got home she invited me over for an Israeli style lunch and to see her photographs. One of the items she served was a delicious sliced cheese. I asked what it was and learned it was halloumi. Because of my interest in Mediterranean cheeses, I wanted to give it a try. I didn't find it in my cheese books, so I turned to YouTube where I found several videos by traditional cheese makers, fortunately with English subtitles!

Halloumi is a traditional cottage industry cheese of Cyprus, made with a combination of goat and sheep milk. What I found especially unique is that it contains no starter culture. That intrigued me even more.

In looking for a recipe, I noted slight variations depending on the cheese maker. My first try was somewhat successful, except the cheese was a little stiff rather than pliable. The second time I modified the recipe a bit and paid close attention to the temperatures and times. That batch turned out much better! That's the recipe I'm recording here. Any amount of milk can be used; adjust the amount of rennet accordingly.

Halloumi

Ingredients:
  • milk (sheep or goat milk recommended but folks make it with cows milk too)
  • regular dose of rennet for the amount of milk used
  • NOTE: calcium chloride if using pasteurized cow milk

To Make:
  • Slowly heat milk to 90°F (32°C).


  • Add rennet and let set for 40 minutes.
  • Cut curd into half-inch cubes.

I read a suggestion to use a whisk instead of a knife to break up the curd.
Since I never get uniformly small pieces with a knife, the whisk was fine.

  • Let the curds rest about 5 minutes.
  • Slowly stir and heat to 104°F (40°C) over 40 minutes.

The consistency will look like scrambled eggs when properly cooked. 

  • Scoop out the curds, mold, and weight to press.
  • Meanwhile, use the whey to make ricotta (how-to here).

NOTES ON MOLDING & PRESSING: Halloumi makers vary in the ways they mold and press the curd. For my first batch I tried something similar to one of the videos. I pressed the curd out flat and weighted it with a cutting board and jug of vinegar. This makes it easy for the next step, cutting the curd into slabs.

1st try at halloumi

I wasn't entirely satisfied with this method, so the next time I used one of my round cheese molds. A rectangular mold could be used too.

2nd batch, which I sliced into round slabs & then halved the slices.

  • After pressing, cut into approximately 4x4x1-inch slabs.

My first flat halloumi curd. 

  • Remove the ricotta curds from the whey and strain.
  • Reheat the whey to 185°F (85°C).
  • Place the pieces of halloumi in the hot ricotta whey.


  • Cook at least 20 to 40 minutes

At some point the slabs will float. Continue cooking for the full time.

  • Cool cheeses in cold water after removing from the pot.
  • Rub them with a mixture of salt and dried peppermint.


  • Fold in half.

Ready for the brine solution.

  • Mix brine of 1 tbsp salt per cup of whey. Different halloumi makers recommend different brining times, anywhere from 3 to 40 days or until eaten. 
  • I brined mine for three days, then wrapped individually to store in the freezer. This was the right saltiness for us. 

My daughter said that in general foods tend to be saltier in Israel because of the climate. It's so hot they need to replace the salt they lose from sweating.

To Eat: I read halloumi is enjoyed fresh with watermelon in Cyprus. It doesn't melt, so it can be baked, grilled, boiled, grated, or as stuffing for another dish. Our first taste was hickory smoked on Dan's grill.

Grilled, smoked halloumi. A keeper!

We really like this cheese so I plan to make and freeze several batches. Because it has so many extra steps, it makes sense to make larger batches with larger quantities of milk. I plan to experiment with other herbs, even sesame seeds as I saw on another video.

Speaking of videos, here are some I watched:

This last one is more of a documentary, but it was still helpful. I was especially interested in how these traditional cheesemakers handled and worked with their milk and curds.

I'm delighted to find another cheese well-suited to the cheesemaking limitations of my own climate! My cheeses aren't typical to what's sold on the cheese aisle of the grocery store, but they are well adapted to where and how we live, and that's what's important.

18 comments:

Going It Alone said...

I absolutely love halloumi. I had a Greek Cypriot colleague who's mother made it regularly. It was delicious. It's something I will try.

Mama Pea said...

Strikes me as very unique and gourmet-ish! What fun it would be to serve to guests who had no idea what it is . . . or how in the world you made it! When I came to the part about rubbing with salt and peppermint, I had to read it more than once to make sure I was reading right. Peppermint?! Does the peppermint flavor come through in your finished product?

Retired Knitter said...

I don't enjoy cooking or food preparation, BUT I do feel one of the most interesting and fun things to do is to try different kinds of foods during travel - foods that are representative of the areas you are in. We don't get to travel anymore because of my husband's disability, and I miss that. This was a fun post. Thanks for sharing.

Leigh said...

Going It Alone, I would love to try some authentically made (as opposed to American commercially made or being made by an amateur - me!) halloumi. I'd love to know if mine tastes anywhere the same!

Mama Pea, who would have figured it out, right? Interestingly, it has no pepperminty taste. At least mine doesn't, or maybe it's so subtle that I haven't noticed. It does add to the uniqueness of this wonderful cheese though.

RT, the joy of visiting new places is in trying their foods! I'm sorry you don't get to travel much anymore; we don't either but for different reasons. However, the internet is a doorway to learning about different cultures and different cuisines, and I love that.

Sandi said...

That looks very complicated! Looks good though...

Thanks for your comment on my Blame post. I like what you said about keeping your eyes on the prize.

Renee Nefe said...

Your new cheese recipe sounds amazing. I should see what types of milks and cheeses the so called natural grocery stores near me carry...I have been getting my eggs at the one store but my daughter tells me that the eggs are probably not as "free range" as they claim. Some of my neighbors sell their eggs but their prices are kind of high.
When I went to Estonia last summer most of the food that we tried there was not much different than what we have here...although their cheese cake was more creamy. The only thing I tried there that I did not care for was the "root beer" which was more beer than root. It was described as a fermented bread drink. I am Not a fan.

Ed said...

I've never even heard of it. It intrigues me that it has peppermint.

Kelly said...

Once upon a time I loved dairy cheeses and this looks delicious! These days, my favorites are nut cheeses sold by Miyoko's Kitchen. She has a cookbook, but I've not been brave enough to try making my own. I'm sharing this post with a friend who makes wonderful goat milk cheese.

Rain said...

OMG Leigh...do you have a thermometer on your slotted spoon??! SO JEALOUS!!! What a great gadget!!!! Interesting, I also recently read about the whisk trick and I used it for my last 3 cheeses!

I've never tried Halloumi before but I've often seen recipes. I think I'll try it one of these days. It looks great the way you served it! Love this post!!! :) Have a cheesy day! :p

Leigh said...

Sandi, not so much complicated as time consuming! It's pretty much an all afternoon cheese. (Always eyes on the prize. It's the only thing that helps life to make sense.)

Renee, a "fermented bread drink?" lol, must mean lots of yeast! I wonder what kind of roots they use(?)

Do you find your natural grocery stores to be kinda high in price? You're probably right about "free range." Sadly, the government definition doesn't include running around outside.

Ed, yes, the peppermint is a surprise, although I don't notice a flavor difference because of it. Could be my peppermint!

Kelly, I've never tried nut cheese, but I really like almond milk. I don't buy it because it doesn't make sense to with our goat milk. I'll have to look up that cookbook, because you've got me curious!

Rain, I just stuck the thermometer probe through one of the holes in the spoon. :) The whisk idea is a great trick, isn't it? I learn so much from other cheesemakers around the internet. :)

Rain said...

I have learned so much too! I just started 2 years ago and I feel like I'm a different cheese maker today than I was just a year ago. Smart about the thermometer...why didn't I think of that?? :) Another great resource is Gavin Webber. He has a You Tube channel and he's an amateur cheese maker from Australia. He has great instructional videos too. His website is called Little Green Cheese.

Leigh said...

Rain, I like Gavin too, and have watched several of his videos, including his halloumi one. Learning to make cheese is something of a journey! I'm ashamed to say how many fails I had in the beginning!

Looking forward to the unveiling of your new cheese blog!

Chris said...

Haloumi is a favourite of ours, we normally buy for our Christmas breakfast, fry-up. With bacon, eggs, tomatoes and haloumi - all fried (separately). I love the squeaky sound haloumi makes when you chew it.

I must confess, I didn't know the origins of the cheese though. So it was a good history lesson for me. It's always good when you can find a way to preserve food, that works for your climate. Your grilled haloumi, looks delicious :)

Leigh said...

Chris, I was completely unfamiliar with it! I've tried to google Mediterranean cheeses but have found very few recipes. This was a nice happenstance. :)

Debby Riddle said...

This is brilliant Leigh! The extra steps are fascinating to me...so many variables with cheese making! I love the way you stuck the instant-read thermometer through the skimmer. I'm definitely going to adopt that idea.

Leigh said...

Debby, it's pretty fascinating to learn the different ways cheese is made around the world. The extra steps are definitely worth it!

Quinn said...

A friend in England mentioned loving to use haloumi for grilling - I had not heard of it before, but soon read up about it and am hoping to find it available somewhere in my nec kof the woods. I'll keep looking!
Leigh, I have a question for you about smaller-size goats: is it harder to milk them b/c the teats are smaller than say on a Nubian - which are the goats I've milked in the past? I have limiting arthritis in my hands and bone spurs in both thumbs, which is the only reason I don't have at least one dairy goat. But dairy is my biggest expense at the grocery store and I'm beginning to wonder if I should try, anyway. I know there are "machines" for goat milking, but I think if I couldn't milk by hand at least most of the time, I wouldn't want to do it. I probably should have emailed you instead of leaving this long comment, but I'll post it anyway and if you have time to respond, feel free to email if that's easy for you: q dot piper at hotmail dot com. Thanks very much.

Leigh said...

Quinn, I'll answer both here, in case someone else is interested and email you the answer as well, which is probably easier for you.

Dairy is an important part of our diet too, and I don't know what we'd do without our goats. Of the smaller breeds, I've had both Nigerian Dwarfs and Kinders. In general I found the NDs harder to milk because they have smaller teats and udders. They also give less. I like Kinders better because in general they are easier to milk and give more. But, of course it depends on the individual doe. I've had some Kinders with short teats that are hard to milk and others with larger teats that are very easy to milk. Another plus for Kinders is how rich their milk is. I think they have one of the highest percentages of butterfat of all the dairy breeds. Even after skimming their milk is creamy and sweet. Plus they seem to have a higher milk solids percentage, because my Kinder cheeses are heavier than my Nubian cheeses were for the same amount of milk. Both of those breeds have really nice personalities. I hope that helps!