Salty and rubbery, halloumi -- the national cheese of Cyprus -- hardly seems to be the kind of thing people would fight about. But, considering the historical divisions on the island, which has been split into Greek and Turkish sides since 1974, perhaps its not surprising that humble halloumi has been dragged into the Cyprus conflict.
As previously mentioned on this blog, Greek and Turkish Cypriots have been fighting over who gets to claim halloumi (or "hellim," as it's called on the Turkish side) as their own, with Greek Cypriots having put in a request with the European Union to give the cheese Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status. That would mean that only cheese from Cyprus could be given that name. Similar protection is offered to Stilton cheese from England and other European cheeses and food products.
The trouble is that because of the island's division, Turkish Cypriots are concerned that the designation will only apply to halloumi made on the Greek side, which is a member of the EU. With the PDO applicaiton in process, the fight over halloumi is heating up, as the Cyprus Mail reports:
The agriculture ministry is the responsible authority for the inspection of halloumi cheese and the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Industry (KIBSO) cannot be inspectors for production in the north, said minister Nicos Kouyialis yesterday.
Kouyialis sent out an unequivocal message to everyone objecting to the registration of halloumi as a product with protected designation of origin (PDO) and asked for the ‘unnecessary domestic disputes’ to stop. He dismissed the possibility of withdrawing the application.
“The registration of halloumi as a PDO is a matter of national importance and the government will do all in its power to protect the product from international competition,” said the minister.
However at a news conference yesterday KIBSO chairman Ali Çıralı said: “If halloumi’s registration as a PDO proceeds without the participation of the Turkish Cypriots, it will lead them to economic destruction, it will weaken their confidence in EU institutions and will inflict major damage on Cyprus peace negotiations.”
KIBSO, a non-governmental-organisation which represents halloumi producers and inspects production in the north, is asking the ministry to cooperate so that they can inspect halloumi’s production in the north on the ministry’s behalf, until a final Cyprus solution.
They worry that the dairy product’s registration as PDO will lead to economic damage for Turkish Cypriots, since halloumi constitutes 25 per cent of their overall exports.
“We will not be able to use the name hellim, if halloumi is registered as a PDO. Hellim will have to be produced according to the registration’s standards and Turkish Cypriot producers will be excluded from the process,” Çıralı said.
This cheese fight is no small matter -- halloumi/hellim accounts for close to 25 percent of northern Cyprus's exports.