A traditional Cypriot dish with a special aged cheese from Gourmet Goat
We’re mad for halloumi in the UK. So mad for it, we’ve started producing it en-masse, speeding up the process and cutting corners that render it almost a different cheese altogether—as is the sad fate of so many delicious imports.
But the Cypriots are putting their collective foot down, as they attempt to enshrine the traditional production process of their sacred cheese and ensure its continued greatness. “The Cypriot government are very prescriptive about what halloumi should be—in a good way,” says Nadia of Gourmet Goat.
‘Real’ halloumi has to contain either goat’s or sheep’s milk, or a combination of both. It must be full fat, with no added milk powders, emulsifiers or thickeners, and come from free-range animals—“if the animals are not outdoors on a particular day, it must be due to certain weather conditions”—and only select breeds at that.
A little baby
‘Fresh’ halloumi is kept in brine for three days before being packaged up. What distinguishes Nadia’s cheese is that it is mature halloumi, which stays in brine at least 40 days at a temperature of 15-20C. “It’s then put into a container with another brine solution, which is how it arrives here. Because of that, it must be treated accordingly: soaked, rinsed and patted dry—it’s like looking after a little baby,” Nadia laughs. “But it pays dividends, because it has an amazing flavour. It’s also more substantial and doesn’t have that squeaky feel.”
If you were thinking that having put all that effort into the cheese the hard part of concocting the Gourmet Goat aged halloumi pilaf bowl must be over, you’d be wrong.
Pilaf is a traditional dish that’s been around for centuries, and is “very strongly associated with villagers in Cyprus because they grow so much wheat, which is used to make bulgur,” she explains. “As with many dishes there are regional variations, and the method we use is common in the area I am from.
Nice salty crunch
“First, we fry or toast the vermicelli (or ‘angel hair’), then we stop the browning process by adding kilos of onions and turning the heat right down. This is then cooked for almost two hours, until you get a sweet, translucent base. We add tomatoes, sea salt, freshly ground pepper and organic vegetable stock, then it’s ready for the bulgur wheat—coarse bulgur, rather than the refined stuff you often find in shops—and roasted fava beans, which add a nice salty crunch to it.”
The barbecue sauce it comes with is also a complex amalgamation of carefully complemented ingredients. “It contains two types of Turkish chillies, one of which is really black and oily. It’s left out in the sun to dry until it almost looks like charcoal—that’s what gives it that smoky flavour,” Nadia continues. “We use a Greek red wine vinegar, brown muscovado sugar—which gives it a caramelly rather than sickly, processed flavour—tomatoes, onions, a little bit of garlic, and cloves.”
The whole lot is then cooked down for three and a half hours, left to cool, and dolloped generously alongside spoonfuls of Greek yoghurt tzatziki, and a tangle of crisp Mediterranean slaw. “A lot of processes go into that little bowl of food!”—much like the careful crafting of the halloumi, though, it shows: it’s a substantial bowl of goodness, which satisfies every sense. “It takes a lot of time, but our regulars do love it,” Nadia grins. “Don’t worry—it’s not going anywhere.”