Making Halloumi Cheese

I am currently WWOOFing with a woman named Sue Arthur who owns Over The Moon Dairy in Putaruru, New Zealand and her partner Neil Willman. Sue is a professional cheese maker with award winning cheeses and Neil is a cheese making teacher and judge from Australia. He has also written a book called The Guide To Making Your Own Cheese. I have been interested in learning how to make cheese and now am getting to learn what an art it really is!

Last night we made Halloumi cheese. Halloumi is popular in Greece. It is a cooked cheese and one of the few cheeses you can eat the same day you start it. It doesn't require a starter culture and is very easy to make at home! 

BeforeI get started I want to point out the two things Sue said to remember that are THE two most important things in cheese making. 

  1. Temperature - Make sure to have a good thermometer that can tell you EXACTLY what degree something is
  2. Cleanliness and sterilization - You don't want any bad bacteria getting into your cheese

I will be following the recipe created by Neil from his book.                                                                                                   Here is what you will need:

  • 2 Litres pasteurized, non-homogenized cow or goats milk
  • Rennet
  • Salt
  • Herbs for taste (optional)
  • 3 of the same size 2 liter containers, one with holes poked in the bottom
  • Cheese cloth or some other type of cloth with small holes for drainage in it
  • Saucepan 
  • Frypan
  • Whisk
  • Knife
  • Strainer
  • Thermometer
  • Dropper

IF YOU ARE VEGETARIAN                                                                                                             

Note: Rennet comes from the fourth stomach of new born calves. The calves do have to be killed to supply the rennet, so if you are a vegetarian you can use vegetarian rennet which is what we used to make our Halloumi. Ours was a microbial rennet that comes from a fungus and is called Chymosin.

So that being said, let's get started! 

The first thing you need to do is heat your milk to between  109.5°F and 113°F. (These are converted from Celsius) We did this by just putting the milk in the microwave. Because there is no starter added,  109.5°F or 43°C is the temperature that the rennet works the fastest. 

So once you've warmed your milk, pour it into one of your containers. Make sure it's one without holes in the bottom! Use your thermometer to find out what the temperature is. Make sure it is no cooler than 109.5 and no warmer than 113. 

Next you will need to add the Rennet. We used 2mL of Chymosin rennet. Use your dropper to measure out how much you need. Make sure as you add it you are stirring your milk. Also, don't add it all into the same place, drop it all around while you stir. Once it is all in, continue to stir for about 15 seconds, then let it sit for about two minutes. 

While that is sitting go ahead and get your cloth out and lay it inside of the container with holes in the bottom. It should be the same length as the container and cover the bottom. Cut it so that it just hangs out over the top a little. Once it is like the picture below, just place that container into another container, one without holes. 

Once that is done, you will need to test your curd see if it is ready. To do this take your knife and cut it just a little a couple inches out from the edge. 

 

Then take your knife and turn it on it's side, sliding it in at the edge of the container, lifting up to see the consistency of the curd.

It wasn't ready on our first cut, this time it is! That's pretty much how it should look when it's ready. 

Next you are going to want to take your knife and put it straight down in to the curd. You will slice it back and forth through the curd both long ways and short ways to cut all of it it into corn sized pieces. Then take your whisk and gently spin it back and forth to make sure everything is cut into small enough pieces.                                                                                                         

Note: The longer you stir your curd and the smaller the pieces get, the firmer the cheese will be, the shorter, the softer. 

So now you have your curds and whey! Curd being the chunky bit and whey being the liquid. 

Next you will need to strain your whey out using your strainer. You will need to make sure to get as much of it out as possible. Also, make sure to strain it over your sauce pan, you will need it for later. 

Once it's in the strainer and the whey has drained out, this is when you can add your herbs. Make sure not to mix them in too much, just sort of fold the curd on itself a few times. (You should do this even if you aren't adding herbs to make sure the last of the whey is out)

Once you've got the whey strained out, take the saucepan and put it on the stove and get it heated up to about 203°F, just below boiling. 

Now take your strained curd and dump it into the container with the cheese cloth. Level the cheese out then take the extra cheese cloth and fold it over on top of the curd. Fill up your third container with water and set it inside of the one with the curd so that it acts as weight to press any remaining whey out. Leave it there for about 30 minutes, if you want the cheese to be a little more firm you can leave it for an hour.

You can see how the remaining whey is going through the holes in the bottom and being collected in the bottom container. The cheese cloth just prevents the holes from getting clogged with the curd. You want the final thickness of the curd to be about 1 inch. When it is ready, take off the container of water and press the top of the cheese cloth to feel the consistency of the cheese. It should feel a bit like rubber.

Next, tip the slab of curd out on to a cutting board or plate. We just dumped ours onto the lid of one of the containers. Now cut it into big sections. 

Next, place them into the almost boiling whey. Put the whey on medium heat so it doesn't get any warmer, you don't want it to boil. You will notice the curd pieces will sink. Eventually after a couple minutes they should rise to the top. If you feel like it's been a while and they haven't risen, try moving them around a bit and make sure they haven't gotten stuck to the bottom. 

While waiting for them to rise you need to get your salt bath or brine ready. We used 1/2 cup of salt and 1 1/2 cups of water to make the brine. You want to make sure your brine isn't too weak or the Halloumi will become slimy on the surface. (I thought the cheese had a nice flavor with this amount of salt)

Here, you see they have risen to the top. 

Next you need to put the pieces directly into your brine. Be aware that because there are no starters in Halloumi, there is no acidity which is what preserves cheese. So you need to make sure to be very hygienic once you've removed the pieces from the hot whey or harmful bacteria could get on your cheese. If you don't plan to eat them immediately, put it directly into the fridge after it's gone in the brine. 

You should let them sit in the brine for 1-3 minutes depending on how big your block is and how salty you want it. We left ours in for about 2 minutes. Once you take it out, either let them air dry for a minute or pat them dry. 

Lastly, just slice each bigger piece in to smaller pieces and cook them on the pan until each side is nice and brown! If you have a good non stick pan you won't need any oil. 

And now you've made Halloumi cheese! Enjoy!

Also, just so you know. While different cheeses have different starter cultures, recipes, aging periods etc, once you learn how to make one kind of cheese, it is somewhat of a similar process to making others. It's kind of like learning to bake a cake, once you have the basic gist of the steps, you alter the recipe and baking times and you come out with a different cake. So while cheese making is most definitely an art of it's own and takes a lot of practice as well as trial and error, after making Halloumi, you now have a basic understanding of how to make cheese. I encourage you to look up some other recipes and try some different kinds!

Here is a picture from Neil's book of the recipe we used and some more pictures. 

An extra bit of info:

If you are curious to know why Halloumi cheese doesn't melt, there is a scientific explanation.  Starter cultures produce lactic acid, which subsequently dissolves calcium, which is then removed from the protein or casein.  So depending on how much of the calcium is removed determines whether your cheese will be soft and crumbly or tough and rubbery as well as all the textures in between.  In milk 2/3 of the calcium is bonded to the casein protein and when none of the calcium is removed during cheese making the cheese will be very tough and rubbery like halloumi. With cheeses with starter cultures the acidity produced by the starter cultures dissolve some of this calcium from the casein enabling the protein structure to be weaker and become more elastic like stretchy mozzarella, or total removal of calcium from the protein causes the structure of the cheese to be crumbly or chalky like feta. So the message is that because you haven’t removed any calcium from the protein in halloumi it’s rubbery and squeaky in the mouth and doesn’t melt.