Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Frying the Cheese

If you have been reading these random notes for any time at all, you will know that I am a confirmed cheesehead. I have been one all of my life. Growing up in the upper Midwest, I guess I have come by this honestly. I will eat any cheese placed in front of me regardless of its appearance, fragrance/odor, or words of praise or caution. Suffice it to say, I have eaten a lot of cheese in my time, but until a few days ago I had never tasted Halloumi. In fact, I never even heard of it before SallyAnn and I came across it at the weekly farmers market here in New Gloucester, Maine.

One of the regular vendors, Townhouse Farm in Whitefield, Maine, offers a selection of locally-produced yogurts - “ewegurt” - made from sheep’s milk. But it was the smallish half rounds of Halloumi that caught my attention. How can it be that there is a cheese out there that I have never heard of or read about before, much less tasted? Of course, I had to buy some. A cheesehead worth his weight can not pass up the opportunity to sample a “new” cheese (actually it has been around for centuries). In response to our inquiry about it, we were told that we could fry or grill it. “Won’t it melt?” I asked picturing a mess of gooey cheese dripping through the grate of our grill. I was assured this would not happen. What a concept!

Being a historian I immediately looked into this new discovery. It turns out that Halloumi really has been around for centuries. A national delicacy of Cyprus (Greek = Χαλούμί Turkish = Hellim), it is traditionally made from unpasteurized sheep’s or goat’s milk (and sometime cow’s milk although it changes its consistency and grilling qualities). Traditional Halloumi is produced without the introduction of bacteria and it is a good source of protein and contains almost twice the amount of calcium of other cheeses while only 25% fat weight. It is normally stored in its brine or the whey extracted during processing (although the locally made Halloumi we purchased was not). It has very little water content and does not require aging, although it will produce a stronger and saltier taste. This all contributes to a much higher melting temperature than other cheeses making it ideal for grilling and frying. It turns to a nice golden brown on the outside with grill markings while the inside has the consistency of fresh curds and squeaks when you chew it. It can be chopped into croutons for salads or served with pita bread. It is also quite good with roasted peppers and olives (especially Greek olives). We fried it and served it over freshly sliced Heirloom tomatoes with a sprig of basil and drizzled with a light dressing.

Halloumi is not particularly cheap - it goes for around $15/pound - but it is a treat, keeps well in the refrigerator, and it is worth the extra you pay for a cheese made from sheep’s or goat’s milk. If it is good (and it looked oh so good), it is worth the gamble. A similar type of cheese is manufactured commercially in this country using cow’s milk and sold as “frying cheese,” yet it has a tendency to melt rather than soften. I would recommend the real thing!

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