NEW YORK CITY — Grilled cheese has nothing on these fromages.
Grilling cheeses — which can stand up to the heat on their own, without bread — are hot commodities at Mediterranean and Middle Eastern restaurants and supermarkets as the summertime grilling season begins.
Among the kinds of cheese that are strong enough to face the flame alone include halloumi, a sheep and goat's milk cheese from Cyprus; graviera, a Parmesan-like sheep's milk cheese from Crete; and manouri, a Greek cooking cheese similar to feta — all of which can be grilled, pan-fried or baked.
“I love [halloumi] because it gets a little salty when you grill it and it's perfect with a cocktail because of that," Hilary Johnston, the chef at Kashkaval Garden, a Hell's Kitchen Greek restaurant said.
Here's how four New York City restaurants are serving grilled cheese:
The halloumi appetizer at Kashkaval Garden resembles mozzarella sticks. The strips of halloumi are sprayed with canola oil and quickly browned on a flat top or a grill for about three minutes per side, said Johnston. The cheese should be kept away from the open flame to avoid melting, she said.
The dish is then served with a marinara sauce that is spiced up with the Middle Eastern chili pepper paste harissa and a slice of lemon.
"[Halloumi] has a high melting point, which is what makes it ideal for grilling,” Johnston said.
For a sweet and salty combination, halloumi can be paired with grilled watermelon, Johnston said.
The chef is also experimenting with manouri. She plans to pair it with grilled peaches and arugula.
Chef Phil Stannard takes a simple approach with halloumi by pairing it with Portobello mushrooms and artichokes.
The halloumi, mushrooms and artichokes are first seared separately on a flat top grill. They are then skewered and cooked for few minutes together on the grill.
"It is a pretty hearty cheese, which allows it to go on the grill so it doesn't really melt," Stannard said. The dish is finished with a drizzle of balsamic reduction.
Stannard cautioned that wooden skewers need to be soaked in water to keep them from catching fire on an open flame.
Graviera has a slight caramel flavor and firmness similar to Parmesan cheese, according to Nicholaos Kefaliakos, the manager of East Village restaurant Taverna Kyclades, which also has a location in Astoria.
At Tavern Kyclades, graviera is dunked in a beer batter with a thin coating of flour before a three- or four-minute dip in a fryer.
"As you bite into it, it has that crunch on the outside and that creaminess on the inside," Kefaliakos said.
He said the graviera recipe can also be done in a pan with extra virgin olive oil or baked in the oven.
Kefalograviera is a mix of kefalotiri and graviera cheese, and is made with sheep's milk and occasionally goat's milk. The flavor is sharp and not as salty as other cooking cheeses, according to Spiro Hiotis, the chef and owner.
At Athena, Hiotis uses kefalograviera in a recipe he calls "the flaming cheese" (it is officially listed as Saganaki on Athena's menu). He sprinkles flour over the firm cheese before searing it in a hot pan with olive oil for 30 seconds or until it develops a golden brown crust.
Hiotis then sprays it once with ouzo to give "more of [an] anise flavor with the cheese," he said.
Once the dish gets to the table on its heated cast-iron plate, the alcohol is ignited for a brief blue flame.