What is Halloumi?
Halloumi is from the island of Cyprus and is characterized as a semi-hard, unripened, and brined cheese made traditionally from mostly sheep's milk with the addition of a smaller amount of goat's milk. Modern Halloumi is made from a mix of goat's and sheep's milk, and sometimes cow's milk is added *(we will be making ours with only cow's milk).
The cheese is set with rennet and is very unusual in that no acid or acid-producing bacteria are used in its preparation. Some recipes though, do call for the addition of starter culture but this is traditionally not done. When made with raw milk, certain bacteria naturally present in the milk and environment will influence the flavor during aging. These bacteria will leave behind enzymes that will assist flavor during aging.
Halloumi is also unique in having a high melting point and so can easily be fried or grilled. It is the high pH (low acid) of the cheese that causes this non-melting characteristic. Although the cheese keeps its shape, its outward appearance turns into a crispy, golden-brown color when fried or browned and with grill marks when grilled, it softens significantly but it does not melt.
The other factor contributing to the non-melting character and texture of this cheese is that the whey used for scalding must first be heated to about 195°F (91°C) to bring out the whey proteins from the liquid. This whey curd is then skimmed off and drained in baskets. If you were in Cyprus, you could call this whey cheese “Anari” and it looks just like Ricotta. The Halloumi is then boiled in this clarified hot whey until it floats.
Halloumi is often garnished with mint to add to the taste. Traditionally, the mint leaves were used as a preservative. This practice came about when it was considered that Halloumi kept better and was fresher and more flavorful when wrapped with mint leaves.
Many people prefer Halloumi when it has been kept in its own brine, it is much drier, much stronger and much saltier. This cheese is very different from the milder Halloumi that Western chefs use as an ingredient.