"Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes" we were told in Latin classes, - ‘Beware of Greeks bearing gifts’. When it’s a selection of Odysea cheeses though, you can forget that and welcome them with open arms.
Ah halloumi, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Well basically I love it grilled either on the barbecue or on a sizzling ridged hot plate on the cooker.
What a cheese it is, the structure and high melting point means it holds up so well to intense heat, just that characteristic fissure that appears along the slice, and then comes the golden brown exterior. It only takes a few moments to cook, too.
It’s the perfect thing to serve vegetarians - vegans are best offered a packet of peanuts and invited to sit on the other side of the garden. I’ve never known a vegetarian not noticeably brighten up when served a slice.
Along with feta, it is of course one of the best known of the cheeses from the Levant although it probably originated in Cyprus. They aren’t the only cheeses from the region though and we recently received a bag of cheeses from specialist Greek supplier Odysea to help us move on a bit, cheese-wise.
Odysea offer a massive selection of Greek items in general, but this was all about cheese.
Manouri one of the new ones on me is a semi-soft, rindless fresh white cheese from central & northern Greece and is actually a by-product of the feta making process. It uses the whey that has been drained off and has sheep and goat’s milk cream added.
The result is cheese that is smooth and delicate and far less salty than feta. It comes as a fairly large round and we stuck it on the barbecue just long enough on both sides to get some stripes and then served it up on a roast vegetable salad dressed with honey and vinegar.
It went down very well, with people noting how nicely the cheese clung to the vegetables It also works in small pieces on triangles of puff pastry baked in the oven to create canapes or can be scaled up to make a complete mains and it also works well in a cheesecake.
Similar to halloumi is Kefalotyri, which is often is used in dishes cooked in a small pan called a saganaki. It’s hard and salty but a bit more piquant but has the same high-melting point as halloumi.
To cook it, dunk it in ice water, coat it in a little flour and shallow fry in olive oil. The outside becomes crispy and the inside meltingly soft. Unlike halloumi it comes not as a block but as two thick square slices
Kefalotyri is apparently also good to serve cubed as a simple meze and ideal to grate or shave over pasta or gratin dishes.
We fried it and served it with a salad of red and white quinoa and grilled courgette slices from our allotment along with lots of Odysea olive oil and plenty of mint and parsley and lemon juice.
We had some feta, of course, three kinds - 100% sheep’s milk, organic and a net bag of ‘snackable’ small Mini Feta Portions - 5 packs of 30g servings wrapped in air sealed pouches packed in a net bag.
These last are a very good idea as often a whole pack of feta is too much for one meal and opened feta tends to go a bit off after a day or so in the fridge. This way you can use just enough and leave the rest for later or to take to work to liven up a salad bought from a local cafe or sandwich shop.
Incidentally, feta is protected by EU legislations and only feta made in Macedonia, Thrace, Thessaly, Central Mainland Greece, the Peloponnese and Lesvos can be called ‘feta’.
What you might see called ‘white cheese’ is not technically feta, although very similar. It certainly won’t have the fine taste of Odysea’s 100% sheep’s’ milk.
If the saltiness of feta puts you off, wash it after taking it from the pack to remove the brine, but to be honest the saltiness is part of the appeal and what makes a good feta so perfect when mixed into a bowl of Greek olives and nibbled with a crisp cold beer.
You can buy Odysea cheeses online and find them in most supermarkets.
Try this delicious recipe for