Cyprus is getting protected status for its prized halloumi, giving its producers the sole right to sell the rubbery cheese in the EU.
Later this month, the EU is set to formally give halloumi, or hellim in Turkish, the protected designation of origin (PDO) status, which would take effect from October, the Cyprus Department of Agriculture said.
The move reaffirms what the industry and state have said for years, said cheesemaker George Petrou, general manager of Petrou Bros Dairy, which has about 25 percent of Cyprus’ export market: that halloumi is Cypriot, with historical accounts suggesting production as early as about 1500.
“Unfortunately in recent years, many countries tried to copy us, so the registration will help very much, in that other countries will not produce halloumi or something similar that misleads consumers,” he said.
As a child, Petrou learned the secrets of making halloumi from his late mother, Kakkoulou, who sold it at farmers’ markets.
As she gently stirred the milk to separate the curds in a vast hartzin, or cauldron, he would mill around the kitchen, observing her.
In 1982, Petrou started selling halloumi under the Alambra brand to supplement his income as a first-division soccer player, and he has not looked back.
From using 250 liters of milk per day to make halloumi, Petrou’s company, initially set up with an elder brother, now processes 250 tonnes of milk per day, employing 220 people and exporting to 40 countries.
Its expansion mirrors that of Cyprus’ halloumi production.
Now the country’s second-most valuable export after pharmaceuticals, the industry has grown between 20 percent and 22 percent annually in the past five years, official data showed.
The agriculture department said that it has now set its sights on expanding into China.
There were hurdles to overcome in securing the prized PDO status, including disagreements on the ratios of goat, sheep and cows’ milk in the recipe.
Until 2024, the ratios are to be set by decree, and after that at least 50 percent is to be made up of sheep and goats’ milk, with the rest supplemented by cows’ milk.
Although recipes for halloumi abound online, locals prefer to enjoy the versatile cheese is its simplest form — tossed in the frying pan or on a barbecue, eaten raw with melon in the summer, or cubed and thrown in to boil with trahana, a cracked wheat and yoghurt soup eaten in winter.
“A lot of tourists come here looking for it,” said Evroulla Ioannou, who serves up grilled halloumi at her restaurant in Nicosia, Cyprus’ capital.
“Some only know it by name, so they come to try it — and from what I see, they really like it,” she said.
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