Some foods just taste better when you eat them in restaurants—like hot, golden French fries or crisp-crusted New York-style pizza. Another menu item we’re missing from our favorite restaurants these days? Halloumi, the magical, unmeltable cheese that is crazy delicious when you put it on the grill.
Lucky for us, you don’t have to dine at an upscale Mediterranean restaurant to get your hot cheese fix. In fact, halloumi is super easy to prepare at home.
What Is Halloumi?
While it’s often attributed to nearby Greece, halloumi hails from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. It’s typically made from sheep’s milk, goat’s milk, or a blend of both, although there are also versions made with cow’s milk.
Halloumi is white in color with a semi-firm texture, and because it’s aged in a salt brine, the cheese is rindless, meaning the entire cheese is edible. Its flavor ranges from mild and savory to sharp and tangy.
In Cyprus, halloumi is often eaten as a table cheese—uncooked—but this cheese has become popular worldwide thanks to its unique ability to keep its shape rather than melting when heated. (It’s particularly popular in the United Kingdom, which imports a whopping 40% of Cyprus’s annual supply.)
Halloumi gets this delicious trait thanks to how it’s made. Because it has a relatively low level of acidity, the milk proteins stick together even at high heat. The result? A cheese that gets crispy and golden-brown on the outside but remains tender and squeaky on the inside when cooked over high heat.
Where to Buy Halloumi
You can find halloumi in the specialty cheese section of most well-stocked supermarkets, cheese shops, and Middle Eastern grocery stores. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods tend to carry it, too, and you can also order it online.
When you see halloumi in a store, it’s never a bad idea to stock up—especially because, unlike most cheeses, halloumi can be frozen. Just pop it in the freezer in its original packaging, thaw in the fridge the night before you want to use it, and fry it up when you're ready.
Substitutes for Halloumi
If you can’t find halloumi in a store near you, don't fret—there are several other options to try. Kefyatori is a Greek cheese that’s similar to halloumi with a firmer texture and saltier flavor. Juustoleipa, or Finnish bread cheese, is another popular cheese that can be fried or grilled.
You can also look for halloumi-style cheeses from domestic cheesemakers in your region.
Grillable cheese is a culinary staple in many Latin American and Caribbean countries, and these styles may be easier to find in your area. Look for cheeses like queso de frier (frying cheese), queso para la parrilla (grilling cheese), or queso panela, a softer, fresh-tasting Mexican cheese that keeps its shape and browns well when heated. These cheeses can also be grilled or seared on the stove.
How to Prepare Halloumi
- Heat a tablespoon of neutral oil like canola, grapeseed, or walnut in a grill pan or skillet over high heat. You can also use ghee, which boosts the buttery flavor of the cheese but has a higher smoke point than butter.
- Slice the cheese into planks about half an inch thick.
- When the pan sizzles after a drop of water hits the oil, place the planks of cheese into the pan in a single layer.
- Sear the cheese for about two minutes, checking to make sure the underside is a deep golden-brown before flipping each piece and searing for another two minutes or so.
- When both sides of each slice are brown and crisp, remove the cheese from the pan.
How to Serve Halloumi
Halloumi is best eaten immediately after preparation as soon as it’s cool enough to eat. Serve the cheese with a sprinkle of flaky sea salt to taste as an appetizer or snack, or top it with condiments like tart fruit preserves or your favorite hot sauce.
You can incorporate this wonder cheese into all kinds of dishes. Top it with a rich, flavorful sauce, cube it and toss with fresh or roasted veggies and your favorite dressing, use it as the protein in sandwiches, burgers, or wraps, or stuff it into peppers or portobello caps and bake. If you’re firing up the grill, you can even cube it and skewer it on kebabs with chunks of watermelon or meats and veggies.
The sky is really the limit with halloumi.