Hellim or Halloumi
A Cypriot Original
by Ralph Kratzer
When we speak of the Cypriot cuisine, we come sooner or later to Hellim or Halloumi, a product that is considered to be THE typical speciality of Cyprus and which is an integral part of the food culture on the island. (To remember my former article about Cypriot Food and Beverage Tradition – click here!)
Hellim or Halloumi is a semi-hard cheese from the milk of sheep or goats, nowadays often mixed with cow’s milk.
In Cyprus it has been produced for over 2000 years, it is said originally from the milk of mouflons (wild sheep), but it probably had its roots in the kitchen of ancient Egypt and the Arabs. It is also known in countries such as Greece, Turkey and many countries of the Near and Middle East. In Ottoman sources Hellim is first mentioned in the 16th Century. The common spelling “Halloumi” is of British origin. The British brought the recipe in colonial times from Cyprus to Australia where this cheese is still made today. For North Cyprus it is one of the main exports.
The cheese originally made primarily from sheep’s milk is from its appearance and texture similar to Mozzarella, but from the taste stronger and spicier. Unlike most other sorts of cheese it retains its shape when it is heated. Fried or grilled Hellim / Halloumi, sometimes together with homemade fries, belongs to the standard dishes in many typical restaurants of Cyprus. With fried egg it is part of the Cypriot breakfast, spread as are also Hellim omelette and ravioli stuffed with Hellim. It is also consumed raw with fresh watermelon, as a filling in fresh dates or as a coating on delicious sandwiches. Dried, it can be used as a grating cheese.
We came across a video on the Internet, made by George Sycallides, that describes the origin and the production of the Cypriot speciality extensively and vividly both with respect to the traditional, means manual, as well as to the modern industrial production. Particularly interesting in this video is that both communities of Cyprus, so the Turkish North and the Greek South are part of it and get a chance to speak. Hellim or Halloumi thus represents an important part of the common pan cypriot culture.