Savor grilled cheeses on Memorial Day. We’re not talking about sandwiches

By Evan Kleiman

The Cypriot cheese halloumi can be grilled and is a perfect addition to salads. Photo courtesy of Canva.

Memorial Day cookouts don’t have to be meat-only. Have you ever grilled or griddled cheese? When I say grilled cheese, I don’t mean a sandwich with cheese that melts through the indirect heat of the bread. No, I mean cheese that you can actually sear on a grill or griddle that maintains its shape, browns beautifully, and is just melty enough to seduce. It’s unexpected, wholly satisfying, and there are a few different types of cheeses that have a melting point high enough to not collapse into a puddle. 

Each type of grillable cheese lends itself to particular uses, but feel free to mix and match ideas. There are several cheeses made to have a very high melting point, but I like three in particular. All three make easy, quick, hot-weather meals perfect to be served with a salad on the side. Or, in the case of halloumi, it works as a salad itself. These cheeses also make an unusual addition to your taco filling repertoire.

Non-melting cheeses are generally made using two different techniques. Paneer and queso fresco milk is heated to a high temperature, then an acid like vinegar or lemon juice is used to cause the milk to curdle. Halloumi is made with rennet to form the curds, is lightly pressed, then dipped in whey, which has been heated. This kills the initial acidic bacteria and causes a strong, rigid protein network.

Halloumi can seem unappealingly dense and hard when cold, but when heated, it becomes a slightly salty and perfect substitute for tofu. I think it’s the most versatile cheese. As you bite into it, its squeak is kind of addicting. Halloumi is also wonderful paired with fruit or vegetables as a salad. My favorite pairing is to griddle the halloumi, then cut it into thick strips, and toss with Cara Cara orange segments and avocado, with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Melty, smoked mozzarella is a luscious dish that can be made in a heavy pan, or broiled and served topped with marinated tomatoes. Photo by Evan Kleiman/KCRW

Grilled scamorza affumicata, also known as smoked mozzarella, is the epitome of an Italian summer. The cheese is made by stretching and folding it onto itself like mozzarella, but it’s drier and is sometimes smoked. It is an easy festive dish. I like to offset the richness of the smoky cheese with chopped tomatoes that have been briefly marinated with extra-virgin olive oil, dried oregano, a bit of chopped garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Top the cheese with the seasoned tomatoes the minute it comes out of the pan or broiler. 

The famed Greek dish saganaki can be made with kefalotyri, topped with a scattering of minced parsley and a squeeze of lemon. Photo courtesy of Canva.

And of course, there is the flaming Greek speciality saganaki, which I like to make with kefalotyri, a medium-hard Greek cheese with a slightly nutty flavor. Traditional saganaki is most often served simply with a squeeze of lemon and maybe a scattering of herbs. If you want the “show,” pour a little bit of ouzo over the kefalotyri cheese and set it aflame.  

All of these cheeses will start to seize up once removed from heat, so it’s important to have ready all you need to complete the dish, and serve quickly.