Sunday, September 6, 2009

The halloumi staycation

This summer The London Free Press is running a little series called "Staycations." With the economy in the grip of a recessionary bear, many Londoners are passing on expensive out-of-province vacations. Staycations has tips for these stay-at-homes on how to have fun while learning about the immediate area drive no more than two hours from London and often much less.

Retired, staycations are especially appealing to me. My personal boom has past and I am now in a permanent bust cycle. My cheap, old geezer addition to the staycation idea involves only a trip to Angelos Italian Bakery, Cafe and Deli, some visiting friends and a bit of Internet cruising.

I'm making a quick visit to Cyprus thanks to Bill, a visiting friend. I took Bill to the Angelos on Wonderland Road near Southdale Road. Bill loves food; he is quite the cook; and, he loves Angelos. The fresh baked olive bread or the sun-dried tomato loaf are both worth a visit.

Angelos carries a large selection of cheeses. It was there Bill discovered the halloumi from Pittas Dairy of Cyprus. If you are like me, you are asking, "Halloumi? What's halloumi?" You may even be asking, "Where's Cyprus?"

Halloumi is the national cheese of Cyprus. Pittas Dairy is a well known, decades old island dairyand Bill, a well travelled chap, knew all of this. He lived for some time in the Mediterranean island country, found on a map to the east of Greece and south of Turkey. I mention both Greece and Turkey as the two have had dibs on the island for centuries and have had an open dispute over its control for decades.

I checked Loblaws for halloumi but found a Canadian made PC copy instead called Halloom. It may be a good cheese but it is not staycation cheese. Why the name change? Halloumi is registered as a protected Cypriot product in the U.S. and there are moves to protect the name worldwide. Loblaws wants to make cheese not waves.

More about Pittas Dairy, halloumi and even Cyrian politics later. For now, let's cut to the chase. What do we do with the stuff?

According to Bill, put a tablespoon or two of good olive oil in a frying pan and heat until a drop of water sizzles and dances on the surface. Add the halloumi, sliced about 3/8-inch thick, and fry. Grind a little fresh Telicherry pepper on the frying cheese, if you like. After a couple of minutes carefully flip the slices and lightly brown the other side. A squeeze of lemon juice is a traditional finish.

Halloumi, unlike most cheese, has a very high melting point. Traditionally made from sheep and goat's milk, the international product often contains a lot of cow's milk. If done right, the halloumi retains its resistance to melting despite this change.

That's the first part of our staycationfried halloumi, a little bit of Cyprus right in our kitchen. Thanks to the Internet we can enrich this experience.

With a bit of googling we learn that Cyprus, with its location in the Mediterranean Sea, enjoys a combination of climate and vegetation making it ideal for raising sheep and goats. It's no surprise that over generations Cypriot cheese makers have fused different Mediterranean cultures and blended the result with their own ideas, developing a rich cheese producer tradition and world famous cheeses like halloumi.

Finding recipes is easy but to serve my halloumi I made up my own recipe inspired by what I had read. I lightly grilled buttered slices of Angelos garlic baguette, placed the fried cheese on the grilled bread and then topped each serving with a grilled slice of lightly salted beefsteak tomato.

The cheese, as promised, had not softened from the heat but it did have a squeaky quality reminiscent of fresh cheese curds.
It was delicious.

Check out these recipes. The
BBC offers 12 ways to serve halloumi. Delia Online had an interesting recipe for halloumi with lime and caper vinaigrette.

Pittas Dairy offers not only
its own recipes but links to recipes on the Net. The 20 Pittas recipes are presented as a PDF booklet with lots of information about the dairy and the cheese. I downloaded it for future reference.

Bill had mentioned serving halloumi with eggs and bacon for breakfast. The Pittas booklet has just such a recipe.


Oh, about the
politics of Cyprus. You are on your own on this. I'm too busy enjoying the food to concern myself with the politics. Hey, I'm on vacation!


I still had some halloumi remaining and so the next day I grilled a sliced garlic baguette, spread a small amount of basil pesto on the grilled bread, grated just a little Parmesan onto the pesto, laid down the grilled halloumi and finally placed halved olives on top of all.



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