Halloumi cheese is a delicious salty, semi-hard cheese that originated on the island of Cyprus. It has gained popularity worldwide for its unique texture and high melting point, which makes it perfect for grilling and pan frying. When cooked, halloumi develops a crispy golden exterior while the interior remains soft and squeaky.
If you don't have halloumi on hand or can't find it in stores near you, don't worry - there are several great substitutes you can use instead.
What Is Halloumi Cheese?
Halloumi is an unripened brined cheese made from a mixture of goat and sheep milk. It has a distinctive layered texture similar to mozzarella, with a springy, semi-firm body. The cheese has a mildly salty and tangy flavor.
What sets halloumi apart from other cheeses is its high melting point. Unlike most cheeses, halloumi maintains its shape when cooked and takes on a golden browned exterior while remaining soft on the inside. This makes it perfect for cooking methods like:
- Pan frying
- Breading and frying
- Skewering and broiling
The texture of raw halloumi can be slightly rubbery and squeaky. But once cooked, it softens into a smooth, creamy interior encased by a crispy outer shell. The contrast of textures is part of what makes halloumi so prized.
Key Takeaway: Halloumi is a brined Cypriot cheese made from sheep/goat milk with a unique layered texture. Its high melting point allows halloumi to be fried or grilled without turning liquid.
How Is Halloumi Cheese Used?
There are many delicious ways to enjoy halloumi cheese:
- Grilled halloumi - Sliced halloumi is brushed with olive oil and grilled until browned. It's often served with lemon wedges and makes an easy vegetarian entrée.
- Halloumi fries – The cheese is cut into thick matchsticks, breaded, and fried for a crispy appetizer or snack.
- Halloumi burgers – A great alternative to beef burgers! Simply grill or pan fry slices of halloumi to serve in a bun with all your favorite toppings.
- Salads - Cubed halloumi is a tasty addition to fresh vegetable- or grain-based salads. The contrast of the crispy cheese against greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. adds another dimension.
- Wraps – Grilled or fried halloumi stands in for meat inside a warm pita or tortilla wrap.
- Skewers - Halloumi cubes threaded onto skewers with vegetables like tomatoes, mushrooms, and bell peppers make easy appetizers or party food.
- Breakfast – Fried eggs with halloumi is a simple but delicious breakfast or brunch.
The browned exterior and molten interior of cooked halloumi are hard to resist. It adds a wonderful salty accent and heartiness to both savory and sweet dishes.
Key Takeaway: Popular uses for halloumi cheese include grilling, pan frying, serving in burgers/wraps/skewers, and adding to salads or breakfasts. It stands up to high heat cooking.
15 Best Halloumi Cheese Substitutes
If you don't have halloumi, don't fret! Here are the top 15 alternatives to use for grilling, pan frying, salads, and more:
Feta is perhaps the most popular halloumi substitute as it mimics several characteristics. Like halloumi, feta is a brined white cheese made from sheep or goat milk that is salty and tangy. It has a crumbly texture when raw.
When pan fried, feta browns nicely and stands up well to high heat. It doesn't have as much stretch and pliability as halloumi, but absorbs flavors from oil, herbs, etc. Feta works best for uses like grilling, eggs, composed salads, and pasta.
Paneer is a mild, soft fresh cheese common in Indian cuisine. It has a high melting point, allowing cubes or slices to be fried without melting. When cooked, paneer develops a lightly crisped exterior encasing a soft, mild interior - much like halloumi.
Use paneer for grilling/pan frying in place of halloumi, or add to curries and stews. Paneer tends to be less salty than halloumi but absorbs the flavors of other ingredients easily.
Queso Para Freir
Queso para freir ("cheese for frying") is a Spanish cheese specifically made to withstand high heat cooking like frying without melting. True to its name, when sliced and fried queso para freir browns and crisps beautifully like halloumi.
Inside, it has a mild, fresh flavor and softer but still intact texture. Queso para freir works for any halloumi recipe - grill it, fry it into fries, add to sandwiches or pizza.
Good old mozzarella makes a decent halloumi stand-in thanks to some textural similarities. Like halloumi, fresh mozzarella has a springy bite and layered structure from the cheesemaking process. It also browns well when fried.
Of course, mozzarella has a much lower melting point so it can't mimic halloumi's firmness at high heat. But for pan frying, eggs, pizza, pasta, and salads, it substitutes nicely. Partially freezing the mozzarella firms it up before cooking.
Queso blanco is a white, fresh cheese popular in Latin American cuisine. It has a high melting point so holds its shape during cooking methods like grilling and frying. When cooked, it develops a lightly crispy exterior like halloumi while the interior remains milky, mild, and freshly salty.
Queso blanco is made similarly to paneer by curdling milk with an acid like lemon juice or vinegar. It's a versatile halloumi alternative for tacos, grilling, salads, eggs, etc.
Aged provolone cheese makes a good substitute for pan fried halloumi, like in sandwiches. When cooked, provolone forms a crisp golden crust but remains pliable and sliceable unlike halloumi. Still, the salty, tangy flavor of provolone mimics halloumi nicely.
Provolone melts easily so isn't as ideal for grilling or applications where you want the cheese to retain its shape. Stick to pan frying only.
Manouri is a Greek semi-soft cheese that mimics some textural qualities of halloumi. It has a springy, rubbery bite when fresh that turns soft and flaky when heated. Manouri is tangy, buttery, and pairs well in salads or lightly fried.
However, manouri melts more readily than halloumi. It has a shorter window of pan frying time before softening through.
For a vegan halloumi substitute, look no further than tofu! Firm or extra firm tofu holds its shape surprisingly well when cooked. To mimic halloumi's crispy exterior, fry sliced tofu in olive oil until browned. The interior stays creamy and protein-packed.
Tofu absorbs flavors easily, so season or marinate before cooking. Use fried tofu in wraps, grain bowls, stir fries, and more in place of halloumi.
Kasseri is a Greek cheese made similarly to halloumi from sheep and/or goat milk. It has a distinctive salty, tangy flavor and high melting point.
When cooked, kasseri forms a delightful crispy exterior with an interior that stays intact. The texture is more stringy compared to halloumi when melted. Use kasseri for grilling, pan frying, pizza, pasta, and more.
Kefalograviera is another Greek hard cheese that stands up to pan frying and grilling without getting too soft. It has a salty, pungent flavor and makes an assertive substitute for halloumi when you want a bolder cheese.
Thanks to its high melting point, kefalograviera develops a beautiful crispy crust when fried while maintaining an intact interior, much like halloumi.
Saganaki is a Greek appetizer made by pan frying cheese until crispy and golden brown. The cheese used is most often a brined, salty sheep milk cheese that mimics halloumi when cooked. Saganaki browns and crisps intensely while retaining a softened but intact core.
Besides enjoying saganaki cheese as an appetizer, you can substitute it when pan frying halloumi at high heat.
Nutty, creamy gruyère makes for a good pan fried halloumi substitute despite some textural differences. When cooked in slices, gruyère forms a beautiful golden crispy crust but remains very soft and gooey inside unlike halloumi. Still, it mimics some flavor notes - salty, tangy, rich.
The smooth melt of gruyère prevents it from being a perfect substitute. But for pan frying applications like grilled cheese or burgers, it fills in nicely.
Fresh queso panela is a Mexican cow's milk cheese with a flavor and texture similar to halloumi. It has a high melting point so retains its shape during cooking. The exterior crisps up while the interior remains milky, mild, and semi-firm.
Thanks to these characteristics, queso panela substitutes nicely for pan fried or grilled halloumi. Use it for frying, tacos, grilling, eggs, and in salads.
Since queso fresco is drier and crumbles easily, it works better as a halloumi substitute in dishes like salads, tacos, nachos, and pizza rather than applications where you want a sliceable piece.
Bread cheese is a Scandinavian cow's milk cheese with an unusual quality - when baked or grilled, it develops a crispy, toasted exterior reminiscent of bread, while the interior softens.
This unique feature allows bread cheese to mimic fried halloumi's contrast of textures. The flavor is mild, lightly salty, and pairs well with sweet or savory ingredients. Thanks to its melting properties, bread cheese is best enjoyed hot.
Fresh anari cheese is made from halloumi whey in Cyprus, making it a natural - if milder - halloumi substitute. It has a high moisture content so doesn't crisp or brown. But the light salty flavor and crumbly feta-like texture allows it to substitute in refreshing salads, pastas, and vegetable dishes.
Comparison of Halloumi Substitutes
|Pan frying, salads, eggs
|Frying, grilling, curries
|Queso para freir
|Frying, sandwiches, pizza
|Salads, pizza, pasta
|Frying, tacos, salads
|Salads, light frying
|Frying, bowls, stir fries
|Tacos, nachos, pizza
|High when cooked
Key Takeaway: Good halloumi substitutes include feta, paneer, mozzarella, queso blanco, provolone, manouri, tofu, kasseri, kefalograviera, and other cheeses that mimic halloumi's salty flavor and high melting point when cooked.
Is halloumi the same as paneer?
No, halloumi and paneer are different cheeses. But they share a few similarities:
- Both have high melting points so maintain their shape during cooking
- When cooked, they develop crispy browned exteriors around a softer interior
- Both halloumi and paneer can be sliced or cubed and skewered, fried, etc.
The main differences are that halloumi uses sheep/goat milk while paneer uses cow or buffalo milk. And paneer has a much milder flavor than the salty, tangy halloumi.
Can I freeze halloumi cheese?
Yes, halloumi holds up well to freezing. To freeze, wrap tightly in plastic wrap or place cheese in an airtight container. Frozen, halloumi will keep for 2 to 3 months.
Thaw overnight in the fridge before using. You may notice some texture changes after freezing, like increased chewiness. But the high melting point remains so you can still pan fry as normal.
What kind of milk is used to make halloumi?
Traditional Cypriot halloumi is made from a blend of goat and sheep milk. The mixture can be anywhere from 50/50 to majority sheep milk. Some modern commercial producers also incorporate a percentage of cow's milk.
Using partly sheep milk (minimum 20%) is important for achieving halloumi's distinct flavor and texture. The high protein and fat content help create halloumi's firm yet pliable body when cooked correctly.
Can you eat halloumi raw?
Yes! You can safely eat raw halloumi in small quantities, for example when adding to salads. Raw halloumi has a squeaky, chewy texture that some find off-putting at first. But the cheese softens quickly when chewed.
The saltiness and tang of the cheese comes through nicely raw. Just don't overdo it - the salt content can become unpleasant if you eat very large amounts uncooked.
Halloumi cheese is cherished for its unique cooking properties, layered salty-tangy flavor, and the irresistible contrast between its crispy exterior and molten interior when fried. If you can't find halloumi, try substituting paneer, feta, queso para freir, mozzarella, or another high-temperature cheese instead.
These options allow you to come close to mimicking halloumi's texture and flavor in recipes like grilled halloumi, fried halloumi fries, halloumi burgers, and more. With a jar of good olive oil and a sliceable salty cheese, you can transform vegetable side dishes and simple meals.