Every country, culture and especially ordinary people who are the soul of mentioned above phenomena may boast with their own traditional culinary masterpieces invented and cooked in a certain part of the planet. Spain is famous for its Paella and worldwide known Jamon. Italy will offer a great verity of Pasta. It’s impossible to visit Ukraine and not to have its house specialty Red Borsch.
Cyprus gained our hearts (better stomachs) with its unique and exceptional white cheese, Halloumi. Halloumi has a very long history and it is part of the Mediterranean diet. The secret of its making was passed from generation to generation. Till the present day the tradition of this cheese cooking is a true heritage although industrialization has brought some deviations from original standards.
Traditionally Halloumi is prepared from either goat or sheep milk, the mixture of both is also accepted. Milk is the key ingredient of the cheese but not the only one. Milk is liquid and cheese is hard substance. To make it so, the milk is warmed up in a rather big cauldron with a required amount of rennet. The rennet is a natural enzyme which helps milk to turn into curds. In the past the only source of rennet was a stomach of young calves. Nowadays the rennet comes out of laboratories. It takes 30-45 minutes for whey to separate from curds, white soft tissue called “anari” in Cyprus. “Anari”, another white cheese component of the Med diet, tastes and looks like cottage cheese.
Curd formation is just the first stage of the Halloumi production cycle. After the curds are folded into small pieces, they are put into woven basket moulds or special cheese cloths to press down excessive whey of the “anari”. When the pieces are formed the remaining in the cauldron whey is again heated up to 90°C. The dried curd is taken off the moulds and dipped into the hot whey. The cheese pieces are heated in such a way for 30 minutes and then taken out of the steaming liquid.
Passing this stage Halloumi attains its main non-melting feature despite undergoing high temperatures while frying, grilling, roasting, etc. Boiled cheese becomes firm and gains a unique texture which distinguishes it from other famous sorts of cheese round the world. Still warm Halloumi is sprinkled with a mixture of salt and mint, two preservatives that prevent the cheese from spoiling and growing moldy. Salt is a widespread conserving agent from the ancient times while mint, famous for its antibacterial properties, is used everywhere save kitchen. Meanwhile Cypriots by a mere accident discovered a great benefit of applying mint as preservative. Once they left their traditional cheese enveloped in mint leaves and were surprised that it was as fresh as some time ago. Since that day Cypriots started widely using mint as spice for many dishes. Being warm, the cheese is hand-folded into its final shape.
Halloumi may appear on the table soon after production. However if you like more mature Halloumi you will have to keep it 40 more days in the brine to make it harder. In the old times when people were far from imagining that today they could have got a gift from civilization such as refrigerator, still managed to extend shelf time of Halloumi for a year keeping it in earthenware pots filled with natural brine. Brine is another preservative agent which confronts bacterial invasion. And even nowadays it is poured in vacuum packages the cheese is sold in.
Mass industrial production of Halloumi is certainly based on the old traditions of the ancestors. These traditions were united into standards of Halloumi production published in 1984. However acid disputes with respect to Halloumi making are only growing hotter. The grain of the conflict is cow’s milk which according to the farmers never formed part of Halloumi ingredients while plant owners declare that there was always a share of cow’s milk in Halloumi to make its tangy flavor milder. Due to a list of reasons mass production of
Halloumi definitely deviates from original recipes. Notwithstanding this fact each of us has an option to go to a lovely village to taste authentic Halloumi there and even watch the making process.
As final note, Halloumi is a white cheese component of the Mediterranean diet and is the only cheese that can be eaten raw, fried, grilled or boiled and be eaten with same unique taste.