What is Halloumi cheese and how to cook it

There are plenty of dishes tailor-made for gooey, melty cheese: stretched and pulled into grilled cheese sandwiches, bubbling and blistering in baked ziti, or oozing out of a bean and cheese pupusa. But when it comes to Halloumi, the big appeal is that the cheese doesn’t melt. Instead, it retains its shape and browns considerably when cooked, making it ideal for grilling, roasting, and pan searing.

Beyond its heat-resistant qualities, Halloumi cheese is worth saving for many reasons, from its semi-hard texture to its rich, salty flavor. It can perk up salads, turn heads at the barbecue, and add a punch of protein to quick dinners.

Read on to learn how to get the most out of this versatile cheese.

What is Halloumi cheese?

Halloumi is a white-beige cheese that is almost rubbery when cold. Unlike semi-soft cheeses like queso Oaxaca or mozzarella, Halloumi has a generally uniform texture. Biting into the cheese, it is bouncy and squeaky, comparable to cheddar cheese curds but slightly denser. It is a young cheese (meaning not aged like Parmesan) with a creamy flavor and a salty flavor.

Halloumi cheese originates from Cyprus and also appears in other Mediterranean cuisines. It is usually prepared with sheep’s or goat’s milk, although cow’s milk is also common. Like most cheeses produced in Western cultures, Halloumi is made by curdling milk with rennet, draining the curds, and pressing them into clumps. The halloumi is then cooked in almost boiling whey, where it forms dense blocks. This is the step that sets Halloumi apart and gives the cheese its most impressive quality: because it forms at high temperatures, Halloumi does not melt at high temperatures once cooled. This means you can cook Halloumi in a pan and it won’t melt like Munster or American cheese. Even fried Halloumi is possible, a beautiful thing.

Are there any substitutes for Halloumi cheese?

Halloumi is widely available in supermarkets: look for it alongside brined cheeses like feta. It’s a pretty unique ingredient, but it’s definitely not the only cheese to grill. Juustoleipä, a Scandinavian cheese nicknamed “bread cheese,” can also withstand grilling and brown in the same way as Halloumi. Indian paneer also doesn’t melt at high temperatures, allowing it to stay intact in sauces and become crispy when grilled, like in this Ajwaini Paneer Tikka Kebabs recipe.

How to cook Halloumi cheese?

Although it can be eaten raw, Halloumi’s main appeal for many is that it can be seared, roasted, or otherwise browned while retaining its structure. You’ll regularly see the cheese served on its own on Mediterranean and Middle Eastern menus, cubed and tucked into mezze, or wrapped in pita sandwiches.

In summer, it is an excellent vegetarian protein for grilling. Case in point: this Halloumi burger recipe, where a slice of cheese replaces a beef or bean patty alongside a piece of grilled summer squash. It also pairs well with fruit, which can help neutralize its high saltiness, like in this Halloumi Saganaki recipe from chef Yasmin Khan. Chunks of cheese are topped with honey, thyme, figs and pomegranate seeds for a touch of tartness. Its squeaky texture also holds up well against other bouncy foods, like in these gochujang-spiked brown butter blistered rice cakes.

For an easier route to crispy Halloumi, try this sheet pan salad from food editor Emma Laperruque. The recipe involves roasting torn pieces of Halloumi, so that the torn, craggy edges become crispy and golden while the inside remains bouncy and firm. Toss these cheese nuggets with herbs, citrus, jalapeños and shallots and you have a bright and hearty meal.

Halloumi on a plate with avocado and citrus fruits

This 30-minute dinner tastes like warm sunshine on a cloudy day.

See the recipe

How to Store Halloumi Cheese

You should store Halloumi cheese in the refrigerator, where it can last for months if unopened (just check the expiration date on the package). Once you’ve removed the cheese from its packaging, you can either wrap the leftover halloumi tightly in plastic or place it in a salt water bath in an airtight container. Either method should keep the cheese fresh for a few weeks, giving you plenty of time to fire up the grill or turn on the oven for crispy, golden, cheesy bliss.

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