I once got to be a cheese judge at a proper cheese show. I didn’t write about it at the time because I was a (very) last minute stand-in and so felt like a bit of a fraud. Plus, I didn’t take any photos because I was too busy trying to appear competent. I learned a lot that day but most of all I learned that tasting more than a dozen, uncooked, salty varieties of halloumi is not in any way a pleasant task. So, I present today’s cheese grilled and garnished, rather than in its raw and naked state. Any other way still makes me shudder.
High Weald Halloumi is a pasteurised sheeps’ milk cheese, made by Mark and Sarah Hardy of High Weald Dairy in Horsted Keynes, Sussex. Their dairy began life in 1988 a few miles away, in Ashdown Forest (also the home of Pooh Bear, fact-fans). Making halloumi was a decision born out of a need to diversify at a time when dairy farmers were struggling due to milk quotas. Mark planned to supply the cheese to a sizeable Greek Cypriot community in North London which, at the time, lacked and missed their native cheeses. He went over to Cyprus to learn how to make the cheese properly and business did well. Within a few years, however, the Cypriots were exporting their own, cheaper version, made with cows’ milk and so High Weald expanded into making other cheeses.
The Cypriots are currently a bit of a sore point with British halloumi makers, as they have submitted an application to get PDO status for the cheese, meaning only cheese made in Cyprus will be able to call itself halloumi. Critics of the application point out that evidence for the cheese’s origins are sketchy and that much of the halloumi coming from the area is a poor cows’ milk substitute, whereas traditionally only goat or sheeps’ milk was used. If the bid is successful, British producers will have to call their halloumi something else, risking losing confused customers. Perhaps, just as Yorkshire feta became Yorkshire Fettle, High Weald halloumi will have to become…Highlloumi?!
To make the halloumi, sheeps’ milk is heated , rennet is added and the curd allowed to set. After an hour or so, the curds are cut, scalded, pressed into moulds and stacked to release more whey. Finally the whey is heated to a high temperature and the blocks of cheese are cooked in the liquid (this is why it doesn’t melt – in effect, it’s already been cooked). Finally, the blocks of cheese are brined and dusted with mint. High Weald’s halloumi is organic, with the milk coming from the gorgeously-named Orchid Meadow Farm in Dorset.
It was a nerve-wracking time when I came to griddle the cheese. A few months ago I bought a British halloumi from a different dairy with high hopes but, as soon as it hit the grill pan, it disintegrated into a puddle of curdled milk. Fortunately High Weald didn’t let me down and kept its shape perfectly. I ate it in a warm salad of puy lentils, leaves and nuts. Its texture was firm with a lovely squeak when I bit into it. Slightly salty, it was meaty with an almost smoky, bacon-y taste. I often eat halloumi for lunch and now I know I can get this brand through my veg box people, I’ll definitely be back for more.
Additional research from The Telegraph and The Real Cheese Companion by Sarah Freeman.