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I had never tried halloumi until a couple of years ago. During our early dating months I was taken to a house in the country to meet Katie’s parents. Always nervous that I will say something dumb or reveal too much about myself, I give myself a pretty good pep talk before introductions of this nature.
God forbid these people find out the embarrassing stuff within an hour of meeting me. I’m a talker, for sure. If I don’t watch myself they could quickly learn my fear of driving in the mountains, or that I’m a hack or how much gin I can drink in one sitting. Those secrets should be kept until at least the third meet-the-parents date.
So, deep breath, stare into the mirror: “Don’t do or say anything stupid.” I folded the visor upward and got out of the car with a self-imposed, one-drink-per-hour rule and orders to not try and impress anyone. It’s hard to be yourself when you’re nervous.
I walk in and am introduced to some lovely people who fed me gin and nuts with a strange cheese. At Katie’s urging, I bit into it. It squeaked as my teeth cut through it. Squeaky cheese? “It’s halloumi,” she said. “You grill it.”
It was hot but not melted, a bit of a rubbery texture that was salty without being briny. Katie’s mom, Carol, finished it off with fresh herbs and olive oil. It was a great conversation cheese, but I was beginning to think they were showing off. I’ve since learned they weren’t. This is how they eat all of the time. I couldn’t imagine TV dinners or fish sticks at this house. Everything here is just a touch different, and it began with the cheese.
Halloumi is generally a sheep’s (or goat’s) milk cheese that is unripened, originating on the island of Cyprus. It’s been around for a long time, seemingly influenced by the proximity of Greece and Turkey, but it’s no feta. You can certainly eat it raw, but the taste improves once it is cooked. It kind of reminds me of paneer in that it doesn’t melt.
The high melting point makes it a hit on the grill. An easy method of grilling is to skewer it and let it rip. Don’t forget to soak the skewers. The cheese can out-cook the wood. If you don’t want to fire up the grill, a nonstick pan will do fine. It has an already-high fat content, so just slice it a half-inch thick or so and cook it dry. Brown each side for a couple of minutes.
A squirt of lemon juice can brighten the salty flavor, but I prefer it with watermelon. (I also love feta with watermelon.) Even after halloumi cools, it is good for a couple of days. I’ve now eaten “next day” halloumi at the Davis household several times. Be on the lookout for it at Whole Foods, Fresh Market and specialty shops.
Maybe you can impress someone the way Carol impressed me. Thanks!
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