Not Your Cheese
Posted: March 2, 2020
Dairy farmers on Cyprus have a nickname for their halloumi cheese: “white gold.” The salty, rubbery cheese is made from goats’ and sheep’s milk. Slap it on a grill, and it doesn’t melt.
Right now, halloumi is looking for protection. Cypriot authorities have spent years trying to get the European Union (EU) to guard halloumi. They want it stamped with the “Protected Designation of Origin” label. That label would mean only Cyprus cheese would get to be called “halloumi.”
People in other countries make halloumi-like cheese too. But are those cheeses the real deal? Farmers and cheese producers in Cyprus say no. They want to be sure makers of inferior cheeses in other countries won’t get a slice of their market. And now is the time for Cypriots to defend their cheese rights. They say people are getting hungrier for halloumi—especially as a replacement for meat.
But halloumi has a problem way bigger than cheese. Cyprus is a small island nation in the Mediterranean Sea. Some Greek people live there. Some Turkish people live there. The two groups do not always see eye to eye. The Greek part of the island joined the EU in 2004. The EU is a group of 28 countries in Europe that work together. In the Turkish part of Cyprus, the EU’s rules do not apply. Cheese is made in both parts of Cyprus. But the two sides do not agree about following the rules for cheese making and selling set by the EU. Turkish and Greek Cypriots do not even agree about the name of the cheese. Greeks call it halloumi. Turks call it hellim.
To get the Protected Designation of Origin label for halloumi/hellim, the cheese must contain at least 51 percent sheep’s and goats’ milk. That follows a 500-year-old recipe. Back then, cows were rare on Cyprus. Now many in Cyprus make the cheese with mostly cows’ milk. That’s another huge problem for Cypriot cheese makers. How can they follow the old recipe when they have mostly cows? Protecting Cypriot halloumi with the fancy label may bring prosperity to some. But it could put many dairy makers out of a job.