by Andy Shay
Have you ever had haloumi? If you haven’t you are in for a real surprise. The cheese in its raw state is firm and rubbery – there is no rind to speak of and, well it is pretty bland looking and tasting. Traditionally the cheese is sliced fairly thickly and pan fried. Frying must be next to godliness for this cheese because the transformation is remarkable. It browns a bit, gets a bit crusty, but the centre becomes soft and squeaky on the teeth like fresh curds. It is lovely on its own or served with couscous or grain salad or riveting in a salad.
The cheese originates from Cyprus but it, or versions of it, are commonly found today throughout the Middle East and Greece. Traditionally it is made with goat or sheep milk, although many examples found in North America are made from cow milk – it is cheaper and there is more cow milk here. Mint is often added to the cheese in a vein, although there are plain versions as well.
While it is not in production at the moment, Ruth Klahsen of Monforte Dairy made a really good example of sheep milk haloumi in the past. It was compete with a mint vein. Ruth: we hope to see it again soon, please!
Lonftime readers may recall that in a previous column I wrote about how Dairy Farmers of Ontario has extra milk quota for cheese production of ethnic cheeses (there is no regular quota available for cow milk cheeses in Ontario at the moment) and they are looking for producers to create cheeses with this milk. Enter Upper Canada Cheese with extra Guernsey milk available and no extra quota to produce. Through this innovative ethnic cheese program they have produced a Guernsey cow milk haloumi – a one of a kind cheese, and it is a knock out!
Guernsey milk is incredibly thick and rich, very yellow and high in butterfat. Raw, the cheese is uninteresting and bland, but cut a thick slice – say a half inch and pan fry it or place it in your panini grill and it changes its tune. The outside of the cheese really browns and gets crusty while the interior is smooth and soft and takes on the most incredible, rich hot butter flavour. Image a self contained grilled cheese sandwich with no bread and you are beginning to get the picture.
This is a cheese that is begging for imaginative chefs and home cookers to create new uses. I am a kitchen hack, but even I can easily see it making or being a base for incredible hors d’oeuvres, in salads, as a streamlined grilled cheese sandwich: bread in the middle? Or it can be readily enjoyed just on its own. This is a brand new cheese that is unique to Canada and is begging to become a new local tradition. Perhaps one day people the world over will travel to Toronto and expect to try that wonderful local specialty Guernsey Girl (fill in the blank). We have it at www.aboutcheese.ca as do fine cheesemongers across Ontario.
Andy Shay is a director of the Ontario Cheese Society, teaches at George Brown College and develops special projects for Provincial Fine Foods includingAboutCheese.ca.