Interested in Exotic Cheese?
You don’t need to be a cheese connoisseur to know that one cheese can be very different from another. If you want something firm and savory you can cook at high temperatures, you should check out Cyprus’ halloumi cheese. It is becoming easier and easier to buy in U.S. stores, not least because of the reputational boost from its recent designation as a protected product by the E.U.
What Is Halloumi Cheese?
Chances are good interested individuals can guess halloumi cheese is a traditional Cypriot cheese. Its names reflect the island’s complicated history. Greek Cypriots call it khalloúmi, whereas Turkish Cypriots call it hellim. Both names can trace their roots to the Demotic word ḥlm, meaning “cheese” to the ancient Egyptians of classical antiquity. As such, interested individuals should make sure they are getting halloumi cheese rather than Egyptian hâlûmi cheese. The two sound similar because their names come from the same source.
As for why you should buy halloumi cheese, well, you should consider these reasons. First, Cypriots often make it using either goat’s or sheep’s milk. That makes for a different taste and thus a different tasting experience. Second, it has a salty, savory flavor. If you are looking for something to stand out in your meals, it could be it. Third, halloumi cheese melts at a higher temperature than most of its counterparts. Thanks to that, you can fry it or grill it without issue, thus making it a great meat substitute if you are a vegetarian.
How Is Halloumi Cheese Made?
Generally speaking, Cypriot cheese-makers produce halloumi cheese using either goat’s or sheep’s milk. However, they sometimes use cow’s milk instead. Either way, the milk is heated. That is important for killing harmful microorganisms. Curiously, Cypriot cheese-makers use rennet rather than acid-producing bacteria to curdle the milk, which is a notable difference from many of their counterparts elsewhere. Regardless, the curds are drained using a strainer, packed into a mold, poached in salted whey, and then brined in a refrigerator. The last two steps make it very clear why halloumi cheese is salty.
The method for making halloumi cheese is no secret. As a result, non-Cypriot cheese-makers can produce the stuff if they wanted to for whatever reason. Whether that is or isn’t real halloumi cheese depends on whether you agree with the E.U.’s position on protected products or not. If you agree, you would say real halloumi cheese can only be made by Cypriot cheese-makers using the mandated processes. In contrast, if you disagree, you wouldn’t see a difference between it and cheese made using the same way somewhere else. In other words, this is just another version of the champagne issue as described by Wine Country.
Where Can You Find Halloumi Cheese?
If you are interested in halloumi cheese, you won’t need to buy it online before getting it shipped to your home. Instead, chances are good you can find it in a local store. That is particularly true if you live in one of the bigger metropolitan areas, which have convenient access to a wider range of goods.
For starters, you can check out Greek and Turkish grocery stores in your area. Both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots make halloumi cheese, so it is a common sight in both of these stores. Failing that, you should check out grocery stores that sell goods from the Eastern Mediterranean.
If you don’t live near such stores, you shouldn’t give up just yet. Nowadays, halloumi cheese is popular enough that you can find it at several grocery store chains. Reported examples include but aren’t limited to Safeway, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods. Be warned that its availability might be seasonal at some of these locations.
Failing this, you can always just buy halloumi cheese from Amazon and other online retailers. That could be a much more convenient option than checking out local stores depending on where you live.
What Can You Expect to Pay For Halloumi Cheese?
You should expect to pay more for halloumi cheese than for more common cheeses in the United States. Mashed says it could cost more than $16.99 per pound at Whole Foods in 2021. There are several reasons for this. For example, it is produced on a single small island, which had some issues with ramping up production in the past. Simultaneously, Cypriot cheese-makers must use more than 51 percent goat’s or sheep’s milk. Those animals aren’t as efficient at producing milk as cows. As a result, halloumi cheese is more expensive than cheese made using 100 percent cow’s milk.
There are also temporary factors that can influence the short-term price of halloumi cheese in one way or the other. For instance, plummeting demand during the COVID-19 crisis resulted in a Cypriot stockpile of the stuff. That is bound to influence prices in the short run, though those prices will presumably return to normal as demand and supply return to normal.
What Are Some Alternatives to Halloumi Cheese?
Neos Kosmos‘ reporting on halloumi cheese’s protected status makes it clear there are non-Cypriot cheese-makers producing halloumi cheese in all but name. As a result, if you think it is too expensive, you might want to look for these products.
Alternatively, you can check out other cheeses sharing one or more of halloumi cheese’s properties. Texture-wise, people compare it with mozzarella and paneer. If you like the taste, you should check out feta and saganaki. Fortunately, there is no shortage of options when it comes to cheeses.
Summed up, halloumi cheese has much to recommend it. However, you should expect to pay a higher price for it than for more common cheeses in the United States. If that bothers you, consider checking out other cheeses that can serve as substitutes. On the plus side, finding halloumi cheese should be even easier in the United States now than in the not-so-distant past.
Look for cheese that is fresh and has a consistent texture throughout. Check the label for the percentage of goat’s and sheep’s milk used in making the cheese. Halloumi made with higher percentages of goat’s milk tends to have a tangier taste.