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Food by VICE

Cyprus Wants to Put a Stop to Cheap British Halloumi

Cyprus has applied to the EU to grant “protected designation of origin” status for halloumi, making it illegal to produce the cheese outside of the country.

by Phoebe Hurst
Aug 17 2015, 1:17pm

Photo via Flickr user Stijn Nieuwendijk

Think of the British and their cheese and an array of Wallace & Gromit-esque edibles probably come to mind. A Jacobs cracker topped with a nice slice of Cheddar, maybe some Stilton and a glass of Port …

In reality, Brits are just as likely to be diving for chunks of halloumi on mezze platters as they are arranging Wensleydale on a cheese board. Britain has become the biggest consumer of halloumi outside of Cyprus, with sales of the cheese rising by 35 percent in the UK between 2011 and 2012. Its "squeaky" texture and slightly salty tang tops British veggie burgers, bubbles on its barbecue grills, and melts onto sourdough with increasing, gooey frequency.

READ MORE: The Price of Halloumi Is Too Damn High

Britain's love for halloumi could have something to do with the fact that while the States only allows cheese produced in Cyprus using traditional methods to be sold as "halloumi", the UK has no such rule, and a variety of halloumi cheeses with differing origins are sold in most major supermarkets—and at much cheaper prices.

However, Britain's halloumi landscape could be about to change.

Last month, Cyprus applied for the European Union's "protected designation of origin" (PDO) status for halloumi (and its Turkish Cypriot name, "helim"), meaning that only cheese made in the country would legally be allowed to be sold under this label. The application has been welcomed by many, not just as a boost for the country's cheese industry, but as a potential bridging point between cheesemakers from the island's divided Greek and Turkish Cypriot populations.

In Britain, however, the news hasn't gone down so well. According to industry magazine The Grocer, three British halloumi-manufacturers and one importer are formally objecting to Cyprus' PDO application.

One of these manufacturers is Yorkshire Dama Cheese, a small cheese company run by Razan Alsous, who fled from Syria to the UK in 2012 and argues that the cheese is actually of Middle Eastern origin. Alsous, who produces her own "Yorkshire Halloumi" told The Yorkshire Post: "Halloumi is very popular in Syria, we would usually have it for breakfast."

Speaking to the Cyprus Mail, The Grocer reporter Carina Perkins said that she understood British cheesemakers would be relying on a similar argument in their objection to the EU, saying that halloumi is a generic type of cheese, rather than one belonging to Cyprus. Other British producers have raised concerns that granting PDO status for halloumi, which is produced using sheep and goat's milk, would also negatively impact UK farmers.

However, in the PDO application, Cyprus argues that "halloumi is considered traditional to Cyprus … it has played a very important role in the life and diet of the island's inhabitants, both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, since ancient times."

The UK has asked companies to formally register their intention to object to Cyprus' PDO application and UK Protected Food Names Association chairman Matthew O'Callaghan expects most British halloumi-makers to do so, but some Cypriot producers have also raised concerns.

READ MORE: Halloumi Might Help Heal a Divided Cyprus

According to the Cyprus Mail, the application states that the "the proportion of sheep or goat's milk or the mixture thereof must always be greater than the proportion of cow's milk." The problem is that Greek Cypriot producers in the south of the country face a milk shortage, meaning that Turkish Cypriot producers may be at an advantage.

While Cyprus Agriculture Minister Nicos Kouyialis has announced 35 million Euros worth of support for sheep and goat farmers for the next three years, there are worries competition between halloumi and helim could further exacerbate Greek and Turkish Cypriot tensions.

EU countries have until September to object to Cyprus' PDO application—just enough time for British cheese obsessives to get a good halloumi hoard going.