Halloumi or haloumi (Greek: Χαλούμι) is widely known as traditional cheese from Cyprus (Κύπρος), although it is produced and in other regions (basically in the Middle East). It is a semi-hard cheese that can be grilled or pan-fried. It has a white colour and its important feature is that it does not melt at a high temperature during baking. For the production of halloumi the following raw materials are used: fresh sheep or goat milk (or a mixture of the two) with or without cow’s milk, rennet (excluding rennet from pig stomach), fresh or dried Cypriot mint leaves and salt. However, it is not permissible to use a larger amount of cow’s milk in the preparation of halloumi. Regarding the etymology of the word there are three versions: a) that it is derived from the ancient Greek word almi (άλμη), b) that it comes from the ancient Egyptian through the Coptic ialom, and c) that it comes from the Arabic khallum.
THE STORY OF HALLOUMI
The story of Halloumi starts in the Medieval Byzantine period (AD 395–1191) while a recipe for enhancing ḥalūm (‘cheese’) by brining is found in a 14th-century Egyptian cookbook. The halloumi was already known in Cyprus before the conquest of the island by the Turks in 1571. In a file published in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Cyprus, Doge Leonardo Dona, who lived in Cyprus, mentions the cheese in a handwritten document of 1556. However, the question of whether the basic recipe was born in Cyprus and then travelled to Lebanon and the Middle East has no definitive answer. In 2015 the European Commission has announced the registration of the names “Halloumi” / “Hellim” in Greek and Turkish, as a PDO product for cheese produced throughout the island of Cyprus, following a request submitted by the island’s cheesemakers and breeders.
HOW TO EAT HALLOUMI
Halloumi is prepared and available in two types: “Fresh” and “Ripe”. “Fresh Halloumi” is baked and given its characteristic shape, while “Ripe Halloumi” is baked, given its characteristic shape and allowed to mature in salt brine. Halloumi is very pleasant to eat plain, but due to its ability not to melt at high temperatures, it is excellent grilled or fried. It also can be eaten as an accompaniment to vegetables and meats and it is perfect with salads. Two unique ways to taste it are in the Cypriot version of the cheese pie, the halloumi pie, and in a Cypriot pie among other ingredients usually meat (like a Cypriot version of the Greek wrapped souvlaki). Finally in Cyprus, they usually combine it with fresh watermelon and sweet wine.
SOFIA AND ANDREAS TRADITIONAL HOUSE
While visiting Cyprus you can try and buy halloumi almost everywhere. You can order it in taverns and restaurants cooked in various ways or buy it from local cheese dairies. However, a unique way to learn about halloumi and taste it in its purer version is to visit Sofia and Andreas Traditional House in the village of Letymvou. This place is more than a traditional Cypriot tavern because it offers a total gastronomic experience. Sofia makes halloumi cheese and other dairy products, bakes bread in the wood oven, and you can see the whole process evolve in front of your eyes. The menu of the tavern is based on raw materials from the village and the surrounding area, and they also have a small museum with traditional objects and costumes.
Ηalloumi today has exceeded the borders of Cyprus and has conquered almost the whole world. It is a favourite cheese of many chefs in various parts of the world and you can find it on the menu of many different types of restaurants. If you visit Cyprus it is almost mandatory to try it but if you want to find the most authentic halloumi do not search the internet but ask the locals, who are willing to share their secrets.
*[Photo at the top by Hmioannou, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons]
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