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The Story of Haloumi

Known to the Turks as hellim, to the Arabs as hallum and to the Italians as calumi, few cheeses can get taste buds tingling and pulses racing quite like haloumi. If you have yet to discover this heavenly cheese, brace yourself for something special, because you will never forget your first taste of haloumi. Let’s take a look at the story of Haloumi and see what all the fuss is about.

the story of haloumi

CC image courtesy of Elin B on flickr

People have been singing haloumi’s praises for hundreds of years, nowadays, haloumi is a core element of cultural cuisines all over the world, from Lebanon to Egypt to Sudan.

What is Haloumi?

Haloumi is a hard, white cheese traditionally made from a mixture of sheep and goat milk, though nowadays cow’s milk is sometimes added too. It looks a lot like mozzarella but it is a whole lot saltier, and because haloumi has a higher than average melting point it is one of the few cheeses that you can grill or fry, making it perfect for everything from Lebanese pizza to traditional Aussie barbeques.

best haloumi inner west sydney

The pride of Cyprus

Haloumi hails from the Mediterranean and was first made on the island of Cyprus during the Medieval Byzantine period (AD 395 – 1191). Cypriot famers relied on haloumi as a source of protein and in many villages the entire community would join forces and make huge batches together. Recipes varied from village to village, with each taking great pride in their special technique and secret ingredients. Haloumi became so important to village life that even the surnames of many Cypriot families reflect their role in haloumi production, with names such as Hallumas, Halluma and Hallumakis common by the 19th century.

haloumi pizza sydney

CC image courtesy of Leonid Mamchenkov on flickr

Hearty and mobile

Haloumi was created at a time before refrigeration when it was vital that foods were made to last. Thankfully, because haloumi was stored in salty brine it could keep for long periods without spoiling and early producers found that wrapping haloumi in mint leaves further helped to maintain its freshness and flavour. Haloumi’s impressive staying power made it popular not just with rural families but also with those who travelled long distances, such as the Bedouin tribes who regularly passed through the area.

A taste to write home about

People have been singing haloumi’s praises for hundreds of years, with one of the earliest written mentions coming in AD 867 courtesy of the poet Giorgios Vizinos in his popular poem ‘The Poor Cypriot’. Leonardo Donato (the military leader of Venice from 1606 – 1612) became so enamoured with haloumi during a visit to Cyprus that he recorded intricate details regarding how to make it, while Greek writer Arximandridis Kiprianos raved about haloumi’s distinctive flavour in his book “The Chronological History of Cyprus Island”.

lebanese pizza haloumi

CC image courtesy of Krzysztof Belczyński on flickr

Making magic

There is a definite art to making haloumi that takes years to master; however, the basics are as follows;

  • Add unpasteurised sheep and goat milk to a large pot and heat to approximately 32 degrees Celsius.
  • Add rennet (a stomach enzyme found in young animals); this will cause the milk to separate into curds and whey.
  • Remove the curds as they separate, press them into small rectangular moulds and leave them to cool.
  • Take the cooled, pressed blocks from their moulds and simmer them in the whey until they float (approximately 45 minutes).
  • Remove the blocks from the whey and allow them to cool. You now have haloumi!
  • Soak the haloumi in salty brine for at least 24 hours before consuming.
  • Enjoy your fresh haloumi however you like, though grilled or fried are the most popular options.

Nowadays, haloumi is a core element of cultural cuisines all over the world, from Lebanon to Egypt to Sudan. To get a taste of this ancient delicacy, drop by Manoosh or order from us online, because no one makes haloumi quite like we do.

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