Ask Peter: Halloumi
I have had no success frying halloumi — it doesn’t hold together, becoming a runny mess in my pan rather than the crisp, golden slices I see in recipes. I have tried different brands and all have the same result. Would this be the frying pan I am using? Lois
I had a similar question a few years ago and here’s what I wrote: Often the complaint from people is that the cheese is too “crunchy and chewy” — people want to know how to make it less squeaky.
In the UK the only halloumi you can buy that I’ve ever seen is more the latter style — firm and squeaky — and this halloumi comes primarily from Cyprus, although we do get some from Greece. Cyprus is where halloumi began in the Byzantine era and traditionally it was only ever made of unpasteurised ewe’s milk with the odd top up of goat’s milk if needed.
These two animals were the primary beasts used for milking on the island until the British introduced cattle in the 20th century. Once cattle arrived, some creameries began making halloumi with a small percentage of cow’s milk to bulk out the more expensive ewe’s and goat’s milk, and the texture of the cheese softened a little.
Purists say halloumi should never have cow’s milk in it, in the same way feta (from the same period but from Crete) should only be made from ewe’s and goat’s milk.
In Cyprus the cheese is sliced and eaten with chunks of watermelon. It is also often paired with lamb sausages and is always made with some mint leaves sprinkled on top before being packaged and so, not surprisingly, mint goes really well with the cheese.
A non-stick pan is ine to use to fry your cheese. The reason the cheese runs will be the cheese itself. One way of getting around the runniness is to wrap the cheese in brined vine leaves — the same leaves you would use for wrapping a rice dolma.
These cheesy parcels are great served alongside barbecued lamb or pork chops, whole baked fish or with a salad of rocket, watercress, julienned apples, shredded mint and cherry tomato halves, all of them with lemon juice squeezed on top.
If you can only source the softer cheese you need to make a virtue of what you have. Cut the cheese into slivers and either fry in a lightly oiled (a quarter tsp oil max) pan or place in a heat-proof dish under the grill, until the cheese is golden brown and bubbling.
Take it off the heat and leave to cool a little and firm up for a few minutes before cutting into wedges or whatever shape takes your fancy. This soft halloumi is also really good diced and mixed into cheese scones along with grated parmesan and a little smoked paprika.
It is also good cut into thin slices and used in an omelette, or in a quiche alongside spinach, eggs and sauteed mushrooms. And throw some diced pieces into your next bacon and egg pie.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to [email protected] and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.