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Munchies

The UK Is Firing Shots at Cyprus’s Beloved Halloumi

Cyprus is applying to protect and monopolize on the production of halloumi cheese, but UK cheesemakers argue that their stuff is low-quality, industrial junk.

by Hilary Pollack
Nov 9 2015, 6:00pm

Photo via Flickr user lamerie

The world takes its cheese pretty seriously. Take, for instance, the Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano industry's outrage and horror at finding out that its star product was being used in an ad for none other than Pornhub. Or the Pennsylvania cheese company that's facing a legal shitstorm after cutting some of its cheese varieties with cheaper types of cheese to save money.

READ: Pornhub Has Seriously Pissed Off Italy's Parmigiano-Reggiano Industry

And if we're talking about Cyprus and its beloved halloumi, there's a very tense relationship underway between the island nation's very traditional cheese industry and its biggest consumer: Britain.

Earlier this year, Cyprus applied to have its halloumi placed under "Protected Designation of Origin" status, meaning that only halloumi made in Cyprus would be recognized and allowed to be sold under the names "halloumi" and "helim" in the European Union. Since the 90s, this has already been the case for the nation's halloumi that's sold to the United States.

Other products that have enjoyed PDO status include France's Champagne and Spain's Parma ham. Many Cypriot citizens see the potential designation for halloumi as an opportunity to unite and mutually benefit the clashing Greek and Turkish populations on the island, which share a love of the cheese.

And the Brits don't like that.

According to the Cyprus Mail, UK cheesemakers are trying to stop the PDO from going through EU courts under the argument that British halloumi is superior in taste and quality. Oh no, they didn't.

But they did. The UK's Telegraph interviewed a few of the annoyed cheesemakers, who said that they were "cross" over the notion of Cyprus being granted a monopoly on making the squeaky, salty cheese.

READ: Halloumi Might Help Heal a Divided Cyprus

The UK's Department of Food and Rural Affairs even filed an objection last week, arguing that it would be "catastrophic" to grind Britain's halloumi production to a halt. Although cheesemakers could continue to produce halloumi in theory, they would have to refer to it with a more awkward and ambiguous name, such as "Cyprus-style grilling cheese" or "salty grilling cheese."

Britain's cheese industry says that are other issues surrounding granting Cyprus PDO status for halloumi as well, such as the fact that it may not even have been invented by Cypriots. For instance, its name doesn't seem to be tied to any particular town or region in Cyprus, and may even etmyologically point to being conceived in Egypt, stemming from the ancient Coptic word hallum, meaning simply "cheese."

Additionally, Cyprus's bid for PDO status would allow cheesemakers to use low-quality ingredients such as powdered milk to produce halloumi. Blasphemy, say the Brits, who think that fresh goat's or sheep's milk should be the gold standard.

Michael Michael, a dairy farmer in Somerset, told the Telegraph: "The whole point of PDO is that it supports traditional, quality products … The issue I have is that halloumi traditionally is made always with goat's, or sheep's milk, or a mixture of both. But never cow's milk. And yet most Cypriot halloumi now has cow's milk in it.

"It tastes different," he continues. "We've run trials with consumers. The traditional sheep and goat halloumi made in Britain tastes better." Other UK cheesemakers refer to Cypriot halloumi as "industrial," and think that the industry has become a rat race in desperate efforts to boost the island nation's economy. Cyprus, of course, has its own less-than-flattering opinions about British halloumi.

But Cyprus could use the break. After all, it exports some 13,000 tons of the stuff abroad every year. That's compared to just 300 or 400 tons of halloumi made by British cheesemakers annually. It's also produced in Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Greece, New Zealand, and Syria. There are still several more months for the EU to sort out the application and come to a decision. As Britain and Cyprus continue to duke it out, the question remains: worst case scenario, will British customers still be happy biting into a sandwich of grilled "squeaky cheese"?