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Iconic Cyprus Cheese Halloumi Receives Coveted PDO Status

Halloumi Cheese
Grilled Halloumi cheese. The cheese will enjoy full PDO protection by October 1- but will its producers be able to fulfill all of the criteria needed to make it? Credit: Hmioannou / Wikimedia / CC 3

Halloumi, the iconic Cyprus cheese that is the ultimate comfort food of that island nation, will hit the market on October 1 with its new PDO label after receiving the coveted protected origin of designation late from the European Union.

After a seven-year-long battle between the cheese and the bureaucracy of the EU, halloumi, which features in much of Cypriot and other Mediterranean cuisine, will soon be able to proudly display the PDO as a bona fide product of Cyprus.

Beginning on October 1, halloumi’s new legal status will entail that the squeaky cheese that can be used in so many different ways — from plain, to having mint added to it, or fried — can only be produced in Cyprus.

Until now, imitators have been legally able to produce halloumi and market it using that word.

Nicos Anastasiades, the president of Cyprus, hailed the long-awaited decision back in March, admitting that it was the result of “a long and difficult effort, a difficult battle that was marked by political expediency.”

Halloumi is a semi-hard cheese made for centuries in Cypriot villages from either goat’s or sheep’s milk, or a mixture of the two. Sometimes cow’s milk is also added to the mix.

It is made by heating cheese curds from the sheep’s and goat’s milk mixture, and then placing them in brine. Traditionally, mint is used in the production of the cheese, adding a hint of minty flavor to the cheese.

The ancient cheese shows no sign of becoming any less popular, with sales in 2020 topping an incredible €266.5 million. Studies performed by the Irish firm foresee the halloumi market bringing in over €625 million in several years, and perhaps almost doubling, to reach $737.0 million by the year 2027.

This would mean that the sales of halloumi would enjoy a compound annual growth rate of 10% from 2021 to 2027.

Halloumi from Byzantine era in Cyprus

The iconic Mediterranean cheese, as endemic to Cyprus as feta is to Greece, may be used in a myriad of ways. Eaten plain it has many admirers, but when it is fried or grilled, it is taken to a different level, featuring in sandwiches as a substitute for meat.

From this point onward, the word halloumi cannot be used for any similar products that originate outside Cyprus.

Like feta, the designation also calls for the cheese to consist of fixed ratios of goat, sheep and cow’s milk, just as the product has been prepared in Cyprus since time immemorial.

Problems looming for halloumi after PDO designation

An extension had been given for the PDO designation to ensure that producers on both sides of the green line in Cyprus can be certified to comply with the EU’s stipulations on the day of implementation in hopes that there will be no shortage of the iconic cheese when the new law takes effect.

Dairy producers in the island nation are worried, however, that they may not be able to meet the strict description of the cheese as of October 1 because goat’s milk should by 2024 exceed the volume of cow’s milk used in the cheese, reaching a minimum of 51%, and there should be a certain amount of mint added.

At the same time, the cheese can only legally be sold in the traditional shape of a folded block.

Andreas Andreou, the Secretary of the Cyprus Dairy Producers’ Association, says that according to the PDO ruling, the goat’s milk used must be from local goats — and not only that, they must be fed a very specific animal fodder.

The problem there is that “at present, 70% of the sheep and goat population in Cyprus are not native,” according to Andreou. Only time will tell how the halloumi situation will play out on Cyprus and if the producers can take advantage of this huge boost provided to them by the EU.

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