On Instagram and TikTok, gooey cheeses that can be dramatically stretched out from a panini or a slice of pizza get all the love. But pullable cheeses aren’t the only kind that deserve the spotlight. In fact, I’d like to make the case for a cheese that doesn’t melt, puddle, or produce a single stretchy string: halloumi.
The Cheese You Can Sear Like a Steak
Published Aug. 8, 2022.
Read on to learn all the ways this cheese differs from other cheeses, along with how halloumi is made and how to cook with it.
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What Is Halloumi?
Halloumi is a firm, squeaky cheese from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus that’s traditionally made from sheep’s milk and/or goat’s milk (though it's sometimes augmented with cow’s milk). The snow-white cheese tastes mild with only the barest hint of chèvre’s farm-y aroma.
Cypriots sometimes eat unheated halloumi alongside refreshing fruit such as watermelon, but it’s universally acknowledged that grilling and frying unlock the cheese’s true magic.
Drop a slab into a hot, oil-slicked skillet, and the slice holds its shape. Then, turn the slab over to reveal halloumi’s particular glory: a delectably browned, crisped crust that rivals that of a well-seared steak.
How Halloumi Is Made
The process of making halloumi cheese begins like that of many cheeses: curdle milk with rennet and press the curds to remove liquid. However, unlike most cheeses, halloumi is then cooked in a hot whey bath.
Why Doesn't Halloumi Melt?
To understand why halloumi doesn’t melt, it’s important to first understand why other cheeses do melt:
- Most cheeses, halloumi included, are emulsions held together by networks of a protein called casein. The networks are linked up with the help of calcium.
- In melting cheeses, there is less calcium to hold the casein together, so the structure is flexible. When heated, these cheeses can soften and flow.
In halloumi, on the other hand, the protein networks are more rigid and inflexible. I talked to Dr. Photis Papademas, associate professor of dairy science and technology at the Cyprus University of Technology in Limassol to find out why:
- According to Papademas, because halloumi is cooked in hot whey during the production process, all bacteria in the cheese is killed and any remaining rennet enzyme is deactivated.
- Without bacteria in the cheese to convert lactose to lactic acid, the pH of the cheese remains high. At a lower pH, the calcium will dissolve out of the curds into the whey, allowing the casein networks to flow. But at a high pH, more calcium remains to bond the proteins in the cheese, keeping the networks rigid.
The other major perk of cooking halloumi in a hot whey bath? The unconverted lactose helps create richly flavored browning when the cheese is fried or grilled.
How to Cook Halloumi
Pan frying and grilling show halloumi cheese off to its best advantage.
When pan-frying halloumi, follow these guidelines for optimal browning:
- First, use a nonstick skillet. The pan allows rich color to develop and the slabs won't fuse to its slick coating.
- Second, flip the cheese every couple of minutes. This approach works better at building a crust than a long sear on either side, since it allows more moisture to evaporate and browning to build up gradually, like coats of paint on a wall.
Simple Pan-Fried Halloumi Recipe
1. Heat some oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
2. Arrange halloumi, sliced crosswise ½ inch thick, in an even layer in skillet and cook, flipping frequently, until deeply browned and crisp on both sides. Remove.
3. Cut cheese into bite-size pieces.
Once you’ve made a batch of fried halloumi, try tossing it in a honeyed glaze spiked with red cherry peppers—it’s the perfect snack to nibble on with cocktails. Get the full recipe.
Pan-Fried Halloumi with Cherry Pepper GlazeThanks to its unique molecular structure, squeaky, briny halloumi stays firm over a flame, taking on flavorful browning and char.
Halloumi’s dense structure also makes it a great substitute for meat—so it’s a natural fit for the grill.
Simple Grilled Halloumi Recipe:
1. Arrange halloumi, sliced crosswise ½ inch thick, on a gas grill heated to high.
2. Cook, covered, until undersides of cheese are lightly browned.
3. Using tongs, flip halloumi and continue to cook until second side of cheese is lightly browned.
Grilled halloumi cheese makes for a substantial centerpiece in a wrap sandwich, layered with roasted red pepper; sumac-spiked onion; peppery arugula; and a lemony, garlicky yogurt spread. Get the full recipe.
Grilled Halloumi WrapsThanks to its unique molecular structure, squeaky, briny halloumi stays firm over a flame, taking on flavorful browning and char.
How to Store Halloumi
Unopened, halloumi cheese may be refrigerated for up to a year. Once opened, the cheese can be stored in an airtight container in salted water for up to two weeks.