Wait! Don't click away just yet. I know when I talk about 'grilled cheese,' it's a pretty safe bet that your first thought is of Kraft singles on white, browning in a pan with some butter (or, if you're the kind of college student I was, being browned on the counter by a judiciously applied iron). But that's not the only way to grill cheese.
When I was working at Trader Joe's, I was introduced to halloumi. This salty, chewy cheese is a product of Cyprus, though its origins are decidedly pan-Mediterranean. Made from various combinations of sheep, goat and cow's milk, this cheese is defined by two main characteristics - its dense texture and its high melting point. The combination of the two yields a cheese that is ideal for grilling, though it still requires a light touch to do it just right.
Halloumi generally comes soaking in brine, though there are grocery store varieties that come pre-packaged in roughly eight-ounce blocks that are vacuum sealed to preserve their moisture. On the surface, it looks like a block of shelf-stable mozzarella with a smooth exterior and traces of the curds' natural texture throughout. As soon as you cut into it, however, you'll see a very distinct difference. Where mozzarella is soft and yielding to the knife, halloumi is dense with almost no give. In fact, if you listen as you cut, you may even hear a slight squeaking as the knife slides through the cheese.
The squeak is a result of the curd being heated before the cheesemaking process begins, which toughens the curd and also makes the cheese more resistant to heat in its final format. This is a cheese that you can literally just throw on the grill without fear of creating a runny mess.
And that simple presentation is probably the best way to serve halloumi. Sliced thin (or thick, if you prefer), it picks up a great smoky flavor and beautiful grill marks when set directly onto a hot grill. The paradoxical trick is that the grill needs to be brought up to a very high heat so that it can sear the cheese almost immediately. Rub the racks down with olive oil first, and then crank up the temperature. Ideally, you'd like to have your grill running at 400+ degrees before you place the cheese.
The slices will immediately start to sizzle and pop, giving up some of the briny water it held inside, but you'll notice that it does not begin to dissolve into the oily mess that many other cheeses do. In fact, it really starts to look more like a boneless pork chop than any cheese - call it the OTHER other white meat! After two minutes on the grill, make sure you get in there quickly to flip the slices. You'll get the great grill marks, but you won't have to worry about the cheese softening to the point that it becomes unwieldy. Another minute or two on the other side, and you'll have a great snack - chewy, salty cheese that reminds me most of a firm mozzarella stick. Make sure you serve it immediately - it loses some of its appeal as it cools. As a side dish paired with mint leaves and watermelon, grilled halloumi makes a terrific accompaniment to milder grilled meats - cornish game hens, for example.
Because halloumi is a protected product of Cyprus in the United States, American producers tend to call their similar products by more generic names, like Ballard Family Dairy's "Idaho Golden Greek Grillin' Cheese" and "Gretna Grilling Cheese" from Blue Jacket Farms in Ohio. Halloumi is available in various forms from specialty cheese shops like Cheesetique and Bower's Fancy Dairy Products, and from grocery stores like Whole Foods and Harris Teeter. Prices can be a bit steep (in the neighborhood of $10 or more for an eight-ounce block), but this cheese makes a great conversation piece at your end-of-summer cookouts. Give it a shot and have some fun with it!