Category: Cheeses and Dairy Products
Halloumi is the traditional cheese of Cyprus. Traditional Halloumi cheese is made from raw sheep milk or a mixture of sheep and goat milk. No commercial or natural starter cultures are used, and changes in the flavor and perhaps also the texture depend solely on the indigenous microflora of the milk. During maturation, the yeasts present in the salted whey used for storage and non-starter lactic acid bacteria originating from the dairy’s environment are also important in the evolution of flavor.
After coagulation of the milk with animal rennet in a 500 L vat, the curd is cut manually into small cubes that are left to rest for a few minutes. The curd is then collected, and transferred to small plastic perforated conical molds (11 cm in height, 10 cm upper diameter, 8 cm lower diameter, and with a capacity of 350 g of curd). Without applying any pressure, the curd is left to drain for about 1 hour, and the whey is collected to be used for the preparation of the brine. As the curd is left to drain, the collected whey is transferred to a cooking vat where it is heated to 90-95°C while continuously stirred. This causes denaturation of the whey proteins, which, as a consequence, float to the surface of the vat. Using a ladle, the soft denatured whey proteins are collected and placed in plastic perforated molds (straw molds were used in the old times), and left to drain. This is called Anari cheese, an analogue to Ricotta - a soft whey cheese variety. Anari can be consumed fresh and unsalted within 2 days of manufacture or salted in salted whey and dried, with a resulting shelf life of over a year.
The next step during cheese production involves cooking the cheese blocks in hot whey at 90°C for at least 30 minutes. This is a crucial step for plasticization of the curd. After cooking, the cheese blocks are dry salted and sprinkled with dry crushed leaves of mint (M. viridis) before being folded crosswise and left to chill for a few hours. Afterwards, the cheese blocks are placed in containers varying between 1 and 5 kg and filled with salted whey (i.e. prepared from the whey used for boiling with the addition of salt) to cover all the cheese blocks.
Fresh Halloumi cheese is the commercial product marketed directly after manufacture, i.e. 24 hours after production, whereas mature Halloumi cheese is the commercial product marketed at least 40 days after manufacture (the cheese matures in salted whey). Halloumi is one of the cheeses most produced and consumed in Cyprus; it can be found on every food stand, from small to large-scale distribution, but the original product is vanishing, becoming increasingly replaced by industrial versions.
This cheese does not need to be pasteurized at all because of the high cooking temperatures, yet few producers do not pasteurize, as it is compulsory according to the national law. On the other hand, large-scale cattle breeding has replaced much of the traditional sheep farming.
With the arrival of cattle breeding and the prevalence of highly productive cattle, sheep and goat breeds, farmers are increasingly raising their animals in confined spaces. Breeds intended for intensive breeding are ill-suilted to the high temperatures and poor vegetation of the barren Cypriot land. All of this is causing a dangerous loss in native breeds of goat (particularly the Machaeras and Ntopia) and sheep (especially the Chios), and produces cheeses with a taste and aroma that are completely different from the original Halloumi.
Halloumi is the traditional cheese of Cyprus and, according to legend and published data, it has been produced on the island for hundreds of years. The name Halloumi may have originated from the Arabic word helime for cheese. It has also been suggested that the name ‘Halloumi’ could have been derived from the ancient Greek word meaning salt, or from the Italian word salamoia, which means brine.
It is alleged that the cheese was introduced to Cyprus by Arab mercenaries from Syria and Palestine, who settled in the island during the Frankish rule (1192-1489 AD). The first references that link Halloumi with Cyprus date back to 1554 AD, where Florio Bustron refers to the sheep and goats of Cyprus, and a cheese named Halloumi (in Italian-calumi) made from a mixture of sheep’s and goat’s milk. Also in 1643 AD, Monk Agapios in his book "Agronomics" mentions a recipe from Cyprus on how to make Halloumi cheese, where in 1788 AD Kyprianos of the Cyprus Church in his historical review describes Halloumi cheese as "delicious" and that "quantities were sold abroad."