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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.

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