In the world of cheese, some say this salty, rubbery goat-and-sheep’s milk product is the cream of the crop. The heat-resistant cheese is officially called “halloumi.” But dairy farmers on the European island nation of Cyprus refer to it as “white gold.” For the nation, halloumi is the leading export. For many farmers, it’s their bread and butter.
That’s why Cypriot authorities want the European Union to recognize halloumi as a traditional product exclusive to Cyprus. The Mediterranean island country has tried for years to win the EU’s top quality mark: a brand known as a “Protected Designation of Origin,” or PDO.
With a PDO, only halloumi made in Cyprus could be marketed abroad under that name. That means that makers of inferior cheese in other countries couldn’t claim a slice of Cyprus’ $222 million market.
Now’s the time to milk that market too. Goat and sheep’s milk cheeses have the attention of health-conscious consumers. Cypriot producers project halloumi demand from overseas to stretch to new highs in the near future. Not only are cheese-lovers buying less cheese made purely from cows’ milk, some are choosing the dense halloumi as a meat alternative. A slab of halloumi can even hold up to grilling without turning into a mushy, greasy mess.
But Cyprus’ ethnically divided politics threaten to complicate the bid to protect the halloumi name. The country split in 1974 when the northern third aligned itself with Turkey. The southern region supported union with Greece. Only the Greek Cypriot portion operates under EU rules and regulations. Nevertheless, the self-declared Turkish Cypriot state still claims a right to making the desirable cheese—and it wants to export it too.
Stymied by the split nation’s rivalry, EU’s executive commission let the PDO application for halloumi age and grow moldy, asserts a European Parliament member from Cyprus. Halloumi was on track for the exclusive designation in 2015. At that time, Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders hoped to reunify the island. But the deal soured, and peace talks crumbled.
Today, the southern Cypriot government claims an informal compromise allows both producers to export their halloumi to European markets—as long as those products ship through EU-recognized ports in the south. That claim grates against the Turkish Cypriots. They say they should be able to export from their own ports. Trading across the dividing line only allows the southern authorities to dip into the north’s profits, they claim.
Until tensions melt, it seems unlikely that either region will receive the coveted brand very soon.