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Hani's Organic Cheeses and His Fried Haloumi

Hani Khouri did not grow up on a farm, yet today he looks right at home herding his 17 Nubian goats with the shepherd hook he carries. You would never know that three years ago, Hani and his wife Maria Lee led the life of expats residing in places such as Brazil, Saudia Arabia, Dubai, and Austria. But this multilingual businessman with an MBA gave it all up and has now embraced the simpler life, spending his days honing cheese-making skills right here in South Florida.

Hani is a true artisan who has brought traditional dishes from small villages in Lebanon and Syria to his goat farm in the Redland. So what inspired this successful businessman to take the leap of faith into his new career path? "I love to cook and grew up on goat milk and cheeses, so this inspired me for my semiretirement."

His family thought he was crazy, but his inspiration has paid off. Today, Hani's Organics supplies cheeses to several of Miami's finest restaurants, including Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, the Forge, and Escopazzo.

Hani regularly makes several types of goat cheese: kishta, a soft, creamy cheese; kashkavel, a soft, fresh cheese; feta; haloumi; the spicy shankleesh; a ricotta-like arish; and several hard aged cheeses. Some cheeses are made in a day, while others take months. One thing is certain: Regardless of the day, Hani is producing cheeses, some of which are custom-made.

"I let the chefs try all my cheeses, and I make for them exactly what they want.. the molecules in the goat cheese are so small that it takes on flavor easily."

While at Hani's farm, we sampled a delicate lavender cheese that one chef had requested. Hani's trial and errors have also led him to one of his signature cheeses, simply called Hani's cheese. This dark, salty cream cheese loaded with herbs and olives is unlike any cheese we've seen or tasted. But after one bite, we scooped it up again and again and gently spread it on the freshly made pita Hani offered us.

Just when we thought we couldn't possibly eat another bite, he opened the freezer and pulled out his ice creams. Light as sorbet, yet milky and smooth, these flavors cleansed our palate, and we were ready to head home and try our hand at frying Hani's haloumi for lunch. Recipe below.

Fried Haloumi

Haloumi is a firm, salty cheese that is great for grilling or frying.

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8 oz. Haloumi
olive oil
1 lemon
fresh thyme sprigs
1 tomato - sliced
pita to serve

Cut haloumi into half-inch thick slices. Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat; when hot, add the haloumi slices. Fry the cheese slices until golden brown, flipping as needed.

When the cheese looks to be melting, squeeze the lemon over and sprinkle with thyme.

Transfer to a plate and serve with the tomato slices and pita.

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