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Cypriots are getting cheesed off as halloumi politics takes center stage

Martyn Andrews
Martyn Andrews

is a British television presenter, broadcast journalist, professional actor, and singer. Follow him on Twitter @martynandrews

is a British television presenter, broadcast journalist, professional actor, and singer. Follow him on Twitter @martynandrews

Cypriots are getting cheesed off as halloumi politics takes center stage
Halloumi cheese originated in Cyprus and was initially made during the Medieval Byzantine period. But it’s now embroiled in an EU debate that’s perplexing the people who live there.

So what’s all the fuss? The Cypriot government wants the EU to give their beloved halloumi a PFO (protected designation of origin). In the same guise as French champagne, this will protect its status and will set in stone specific governing about how it is made (using a specific combination of sheep, goats and cow’s milk). But as farmers will be unable to farm new milk requirements, production will drop, and in turn, will create a halloumi shortage abroad.

Giorgos Petrou of the Cyprus Dairy Producers Association says it could be industry suicide; “If the new designation is adopted, it will be a disaster for halloumi makers. It would cut exports by 60 percent because there will be a lot less halloumi being produced.”

There are, however, many who do want the EU’s top quality mark, but the specific designation faces another predicament – the country’s northern territory that is only recognised by Turkey, and any products or goods produced there cannot be exported directly to Europe. Turkish Cypriots have accused the Greek Cypriots of stopping the European Commission’s efforts to enable food exports from the island’s north. With the country’s divided politics as different as chalk and cheese, discussions and compromises have stalled since 2015 and the application resulted in hell-oumi limbo ever since.

Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce President Turgay Deniz said; “Turkish Cypriot producers should be able to export PDO-registered hellim/halloumi as they deem viable. They should not be restricted to trading across (the dividing line) and via the ports in the south.”

Cyprus’ Agriculture Ministry says despite concerns of a shortage and the battle to resolve the Turkish trade issue, they are doing all they can with the European Commission to still obtain the protected status for the country’s famous cheese. Some have suggested that the ministry take the case to the EU Court of Justice. 

But in a cheesy twist, Cheesemakers’ Association President George Petrou is pleased the PFO has not been awarded, warning that around 4,500 Cypriot families in the dairy industry would possibly find themselves out of a job if the recipe changed.

Some love the moreish salty taste of halloumi cheese, others hate its rubbery salty flavour. But despite tastebud desires, the squeaky cheese also known as “white gold” is mooooosic to the ears of the small Mediterranean island – in fact, the industry is worth nearly $222 million a year to the country’s economy.

As an alternative to meat, health conscious and fitness lovers in the US and the UK are consuming more of it every year, so mouldy Turkish/Greek Cypriot diplomatic relations and any concern that a halloumi shortage is on the cards isn’t welcomed by hungry millennials across the globe.

On that note, time for a halloumi burger.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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