Halloumi sold as protected cheese from October

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After seven years of languishing in EU corridors, halloumi will hit the market in October as a bonafide product of protected designation of origin (PDO).

As of 1 October, Halloumi’s PDO status will mean that the squeaky cheese can only be produced in Cyprus, doing away with imitators claiming the crown.

In comments to Astra Radio on Monday, Agriculture Minister Costas Kadis said procedures are finally going ahead.

All sides involved have been notified to file their documentation with Bureau Veritas by 10 September.

“Those producers who are ready to begin producing halloumi with the PDO seal will be able to do so on the first day; the inspection will be carried out gradually from unit to unit to determine if the system works according to the provisions of the file”.

Registering Cyprus’ traditional cheese is seen as a success as it arms authorities with another weapon in their fight against imitators looking to take a bite of halloumi’s market pie.

“The registration allows producers of this iconic Cypriot cheese, famous around the world for its characteristic texture, folded appearance, and suitability for serving grilled or pan-fried, based anywhere on the island of Cyprus to benefit from the PDO status,” the commission said in April.

The extension was also given to ensure that producers on both sides of the green line can be certified to comply with the PDO conditions on the day of implementation and avoid availability gaps of Halloumi / Hellim in the market.

Meanwhile, Cyprus’ dairy producers are concerned they will not meet the strict description of the cheese in the PDO file.

The file foresees that goat’s milk should by 2024 exceed cow’s milk, reaching a minimum of 51%, with a designated amount of mint, while the products can only be sold in the traditional folded block shape.

The European Commission has currently given an extension to cheesemakers, allowing them to produce halloumi with less goat’s milk in agreement with a roadmap drawn up with authorities that see the gradual increase of goats or sheep milk in the mix.

Goat shortage

Secretary of the Cyprus Dairy Producers Association Andreas Andreou explained the PDO file says that goat’s milk used in the mix should be from local goat tribes, which should be fed with specific animal fodder.

“The problem will be made worse as the file stipulates that sheep and goats producing milk for halloumi should be of Cypriot origin.

“However, at present, 70% of the sheep and goat population in Cyprus are not native,” said Andreou.

“Milk scarcity is one of the reasons why the dairy producers objected to the PDO and had called on the government to withdraw it.

“A possible implementation of the file in 2024 will see us rushing to find goat’s milk, endangering the country’s €300 mln exports in halloumi.”

Cheesemakers fear the obligation to sell halloumi in blocks could lead to plunging sales of other popular products, such as halloumi burgers and light halloumi, which will no longer be able to carry the brand name under the stricter definition.

In recent years, sales and exports of halloumi shot through the roof, with 2020 bringing in a whooping €266.5 mln.

After the record year for Cyprus’ flagship export halloumi, demand for the traditional cheese has slowed with order cancellations and undelivered quantities mounting due to lockdowns across Europe to combat coronavirus.

However, the cheese has not been toasted, as the Agriculture Ministry estimates valued the global halloumi cheese market at €420 mln.

Studies show the market could bring in over €625 mln in several years.

According to Dublin-based Researchandmarkets.com, the halloumi market is projected to nearly double in six years to reach $737.0 mln by 2027, registering a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10% from 2021 to 2027.