Halloumi Cheese: Sweet, Savory, and Pac-Man Shaped


[See More Taste Test: 5 Boozy Sweets Meant to Start a Buzz in New York | Porchetta’s Lebanese Chicken Sandwich | Spring Garden: New Contender for Brooklyn’s Best Dim Sum]

If Halloumi was single and it had an online dating profile, it would probably say, “Hi, I’m a cheese from Cyprus. My friends describe me as salty, crispy, chewy, and squeaky.”

And it’d be true: Halloumi is all of those delightful things, which is lucky because it isn’t exactly pretty. Typically packaged in shrink wrap and slapped with a text-heavy label (“The Grilling Cheese of Cyprus!” or “The taste of tradition!”), it looks more like a misshapen block of tofu than an exotic imported cheese.

You should know, before you get all judgmental, that Halloumi is actually a heavily regulated cheese, required to meet standards and certifications much like its fancy French friends. Nonetheless, you’ll find it at hanging out in the fluorescent harshness of the milk and yogurt section of your local cheese shop, not the posh, temperature-controlled display case where those little turds of ash-covered goat cheese luxuriate.

Yeah, it’s hard being Halloumi. But not that hard, because it happens to be both delicious and really fun to cook. Yes, you’re going to cook this cheese. Throw a little olive oil in a skillet, toss a few slabs of cheese in, and within seconds the pure white surface of the Halloumi turns a deep, marbled brown, much the way tofu will if you compress it, drain it, slice it, and leave it in screaming hot oil for a million years.

Thanks to a freakishly high melting point, Halloumi’s weird Pac-Man-shaped pieces will soften and get a little bulbous, but there will be no bubbling, no sticking, no ooey-goo-ing. It’s pretty fascinating to watch, so don’t feel bad if you have a little bit of a science nerd geek-out and gush a little. Repeating “This is so cool!” over and over is totally acceptable.

But probably the best thing about Halloumi is that it goes both ways: sweet and savory. Because it’s so salty (like it took a long bath in ocean water), it can hold its own against all kinds of strong flavors. Try drizzling your newly transformed slabs with honey and serve them with wedges of watermelon, or drench them in lemon juice and pile them on top of buttery toast. Whichever way you swing, you should always take the time to shred a few mint leaves and sprinkle them over the top.

Oh, and one more thing: You’re definitely going to eat the entire block of cheese, all by yourself. This is not the time for politeness or manners or second dates. You and Halloumi are going all the way.