Grill cheese NOT grilled cheese

Skip the brats and sizzle up some halloumi, paneer and panela for summer feasts

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Sizzlin’ Skewers: Try grilled, roasted or smoked cheeses this summer from Longmont’s Cheese Importers.
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Pay attention. A light bulb (preferably a low-energy LED bulb) will go on over your head when you find out about grilling cheeses. 

No, NOT grilled cheese, or those cheeses that melt or ripen into yummy dairy gooeyness. These are  firm non-melting cheeses you cook directly on your grill, griddle or smoker. I knew they existed but I’d never cooked them until I placed a slice of halloumi on my patio gas grill last week. 

I cringed, half-expecting the cheese to rapidly melt down through the grate in flames onto the gas jets, producing a gross mess to clean up. Instead, my culinary mind was awakened. The halloumi—a firm Turkish cheese—browned and crisped on the outside and the insides simply softened. Straight off the flames, this filet o’ cheese had a nice, satisfying, salty chew, with a mozzarella-like squeak. It’s a winner on bruschetta, in a taco with salsa or as a burger filling. 

After frying some halloumi up with my morning potatoes and eggs, I became a grill cheese believer. To learn more about these “other” cheeses, I walked the huge refrigerated cheese and salumi market at Longmont’s Cheese Importer’s Warehouse with resident fromage expert Samm White.

He pointed out a whole slew of firm cheeses from around the world that are made to be grilled, roasted, smoked and simmered this summer. 

“Most of them are sheep or goat milk cheeses that are pressed to get the water out. They have a very high melting point,” White says. 

Feta First: We visited the feta—the wet, salty Greek cheeses most of us associate with Greek salads. A year ago, that all changed. A TikTok cooking video for roasting a block of feta with cherry tomatoes and pasta went viral globally. Cooks realized feta held its shape and substituted

well for meat. “You can also cook feta on a griddle,” White says. “It tends to fall apart so it’s not as good on a grill.”

Halloumi is a semi-hard, unripened cheese made from a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk, and sometimes also cow’s milk—and it’s great for grilling.

All Hail Halloumi: Halloumi (from Turkey or Cyprus) tops the grilling cheese chart. This salty, semi-hard goat and sheep milk cheese is bland and not especially tasty when raw, but transforms in deliciousness when cooked.

When you are grilling halloumi, make sure the metal grate is well cleaned and oiled first. Paper coffee filters are better than paper towels for this purpose. 

Halloumi pairs well with tart, tangy sauces, chutneys and salsas, including yogurt dips. “I like to grill it and serve it Caprese-style with olive oil, tomatoes and basil,” White says, adding that halloumi is great in a cheese burger with cheese melted on top. 

Cheese in Fames: Diners at Greek restaurants know kefalotyri well in the form of saganaki, cheese splashed with alcohol and served flaming tableside as an appetizer with a lemon juice squeeze. Like halloumi, kefalotyri is made from sheep or goat milk, but it’s a little saltier and can be browned on a grill without turning into fondue. “Kasseri is another similar Greek cheese but with a stronger, sharper flavor,” White says. 

Baja-style Cheese Taco: The popular Mexican-style cheese, queso panela, is also excellent griddled and used as filling in soft street tacos instead of fried fish or pork belly. Since cow’s milk panela is a softer, moister cheese, it works best on a griddle, not on a grill.

Tandoor-roasted or Saag-simmered: Paneer is the Indian equivalent of halloumi, a firm, pressed cheese most of us only taste as those white cubes in creamy, savory saag paneer. However, you can also grill or roast paneer and use it on kebobs, White says.

Other Sizzling Cheeses: At Cheese Importer’s Warehouse, White pointed out the Swiss raclette. Much softer and meltier than some of these other cheeses, this aged cheese is traditionally exposed to flame or a griddle and served over steamed baby potatoes, meat, vegetables and pickles. Special tabletop raclette grills make it easy to use for self-serve entertaining. 

The rarely seen “bread cheese” is similar to halloumi, except it is sold pre-baked and ready to heat and use for dinner. It is so convenient and has a rich, buttery taste. 

Finally, White notes that there is a long history of other cheeses getting the heat treatment. For instance, frico is the name for the lacy, crunchy, delicious thing that happens when you sprinkle shredded Parmesan on a griddle and it becomes a crisp. 

Finding Cheeses: Feta is commonly available in local supermarkets as is panela (in the Mexican refrigerated specialty foods section). Paneer can be found at Boulder County’s Indian grocery stores. Halloumi, bread cheese, kefalotyri and kasseri cheeses can often be found in the specialty cheese departments of some supermarkets. 

“Candy Mama Cupcake” is the newest piece of public art in place on Public Road in Lafayette. (Photo credit: John Lehndorff)

Where the Giant Cupcake Lives

It’s hard to ignore a giant frosted cupcake. “Candy Mama Cupcake” is the newest piece of public art in place on Public Road in Lafayette. A sign notes that the giant sculpture was created by artist Melissa Sclafani and asks viewers (and their children) not to climb on the cupcake to take selfies no matter how tempted. The artwork is available for sale to display in your home or bakery. To properly contemplate this giant cupcake shrine, you really need to enjoy some sweet baked goods while you gawk. Pick up some quality, heavily frosted cupcakes beforehand at two nearby independent Lafayette bakeries: Eats & Sweets and Button Rock Bakery.

Local Food News

Mason’s Dumpling Shop is open and dishing boiled, steamed and fried Chinese dumplings as well as noodle dishes at 3060 Pearl St. … Chef Caroline Glover of Aurora’s Annette restaurant has won the 2022 James Beard Award in the Best Chef: Mountain category. Denver author Adrian Miller earned his second Beard Award for his book Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue. … The local, non-chain doughnut boom continues with the opening of Landline Doughnuts & Coffee, 321 Main St., and JD’s Delights, 1801 Hover St., both in Longmont. Other recent additions: Nok’s Donuts in Lafayette and Daily Donut in Estes Park. … BeauJo’s Pizza has closed at 2033 Ken Pratt Blvd., Longmont. … So many fine Boulder eateries passed away during the pandemic, from Shine to Zolo Grill and The Med, that it’s nice to hear that one of them, Brasserie Ten Ten, will reopen soon at 1010 Walnut St. … Two legendary Denver spots—Annie’s Cafe and the Bonnie Brae Tavern—recently closed. … Opening this fall: Organic India Cafe (from Boulder’s Tulsi Teas) at 1795 Pearl St. … The Boulder County Farmers Market seeks volunteers to deliver over 300 bags of fresh, locally grown food weekly to families and childcare centers in need around Boulder County. Volunteers are thanked with a bag of locally grown produce. Contact: foodaccess@bcfm.org

Words to Chew On

“As with most fine things, chocolate has its season. There is a simple memory aid that you can use to determine whether it is the correct time to order chocolate dishes: any month whose name contains the letter A, E, or U is the proper time for chocolate.” —Sandra Boynton 

John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles every Thursday morning on Boulder’s community radio station, KGNU (88.5 FM, streaming at kgnu.org). Email him at nibbbles@boulderweekly.com

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