Say cheese — the Halloumi saga isn’t over

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Despite the government declaring a ‘historic deal’ with cheesemakers and farmers over how halloumi should be made, the saga has a few more twists and turns.

It was a landmark for Cyprus’ traditional cheese after Agriculture Minister Costas Kadis confirmed that stakeholders reached a win-win agreement over how halloumi is made.

However, cheesemakers and cow breeders argue that goat and sheep milk production may still not suffice to produce halloumi with a 50% plus goat or sheep milk ratio.

Kadis announced a full agreement was reached after marathon talks over the controversial topic of PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) certified halloumi.

The minister said the new deal overcomes the thorny issue of the ratio of cow to goat and sheep milk, with the ministry conceding to dairy producers’ demands to postpone the implementation of the milk ratio as in the original PDO file.

For a transitional period, products may be labelled “halloumi” as long as they contain at least 10% goat and sheep milk, increasing by 5% annually until the 50% level is reached in 2029.

Kadis said this would allow goat and sheep farmers to increase their animal stock gradually.

The PDO file stipulates that halloumi should be made with a minimum of 50% sheep and goat milk by 2024.

Essentially, the industry will be given another five years to prepare.

Kadis expects big dairy producers will rush to register with the EU certification system, so by the end of August, the only halloumi available on supermarket shelves will be PDO-certified.

Concessions were also made on the format and packaging for halloumi, allowing producers to diverge from the requirements stipulated in the original PDO file, according to which halloumi can only be sold in folded blocks of 300 gr.

But cheesemakers are not happy with the deal, arguing that a current scarcity of goat and sheep milk is not a good omen when the PDO file is adopted.

In comments to the Financial Mirror, the Cyprus Dairy Producers’ chair, George Petrou, said the issue does not end with the postponement of the implementation of the PDO file and the gradual increase of goat milk in the mix by 2029.

“We consider the deal to be a great step towards resolving the dispute; however, we will all need to agree that any changes in the milk ratio will have to take into account the availability of milk in the market,” said Petrou.

He said the industry had been given another seven years to prepare itself, but much work will have to go into increasing goat and sheep milk production.

According to the PDO file, only milk from certain breeds of Cypriot animals can be used in the production of halloumi.

Milk ratio

The clause on the squeaky cheese’s milk ratio is the biggest thorn between authorities and cheesemakers who fear the loss of halloumi exports.

Cheesemakers fear the obligation to sell halloumi made with a specific ratio could lead to plunging sales.

Meanwhile, the cow breeders association has also expressed their reservations over the deal.

The head of the association, Nicos Papakyriacou, claimed there is no agreement regarding the milk quota to be implemented in the coming years.

“The agreement we have was made for the period until 2024.

“Once the transition period for the full implementation of PDO halloumi ends, the interested parties will meet again.

“Then the market situation and production of goat and sheep milk will be assessed.

“If there is an agreement, the application will be made to extend the transition period until 2029.”

He pointed out that if an agreement is not reached after 2024, then the PDO file’s clause for a ratio of 50% goat or sheep milk in the mix will be implemented.

Other stakeholders in Cyprus’ squeaky white cheese are the goat and sheep breeders who have protested the non-implementation of the PDO file by dairy producers, as their milk is left unsold.

Goat and sheep farmers criticised the government for not carrying out the necessary checks.

Breeders argue that their livelihood is at stake with dairy producers not conforming to the PDO criteria.

Goat and sheep breeders are said to have been offered a hefty increase in the price of their milk production.

An Agriculture Ministry source said farmers would be compensated with a minimum of €1.35 per litre, up from current prices, which range from €1.05 and €1.20.

The official explained that if no unexpected obstacles appear, the deal could be submitted before the European Commission, which is willing to go through the suggested changes.

“A number of criteria of minor importance, such as the shape and size of the cheese, can be regulated at a national level, while the EC appears willing to allow for a five-year extension.

“Provided everyone is on the same page.”

The source said that indications are positive.

Until the end of the five-year grace period, the milk ratio will be dictated by decree issued by the Agriculture Ministry.

As for the halloumi already produced that do not comply with PDO criteria, producers will be given the opportunity within a reasonable period to sell them.