By Annette Chrysostomou
Cheese lovers in the UK fear that an existing shortage of halloumi there will worsen due to an export agreement on dairy products which Cyprus signed with China at the beginning of the month.
“Already there have been jitters,” the Guardian newspaper said. “This summer, news of supermarket shortages in the UK spurred a social-media storm with the mayhem compelling one producer to send “emergency supplies” by road to avoid delays inevitably encumbered by shipping – despite subsequent denials that stocks had run out”.
It added that as Australia prepares to host the world’s first halloumi festival in Melbourne next weekend, and the cheese flies off supermarket shelves across Europe, others in the industry including distributors and sellers are wondering if halloumi’s spectacular success has gone too far.
“It’s difficult enough servicing demand in the UK, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Australia,” Alexis Pantziaros from a dairy farm outside Larnaca told the Guardian newspaper. “If the Chinese learn about it too, it will become impossible to keep up.”
The Chinese middle class has reportedly become fond of the Cyprus cheese.
Halloumi’s growing popularity abroad is largely attributed to the increasing awareness of the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. A hot summer across Europe also boosted sales as halloumi is a very popular barbecue item.
A lack of sheep and goat milk, which along with cow’s milk makes up the ingredients for halloumi, means there is a limit to how much the Cyprus can produce, and this coupled with the growing market, prompted the Guardian to voice its concern.
In the past five years, halloumi exports have increased by 20 per cent, a trade worth €13m in January alone, and making the cheese among the top three most important exports.
Official figures put exports of halloumi from the Republic at over 20m kilos last year, or 13.7 per cent of total exports. The republic exports halloumi to around 40 countries but the main market is the UK, which takes close to half the export quantity.
Though a concern of the local cheesemakers is that they will not be able to cover the international market, they also have to think about competition.
Their export to the UK may be harmed by Brexit, as the imposition of additional duties could mean rising prices.
For Cypriot cheesemakers, the worst-case scenario is for the UK to be considered as a third country.
They are worried that the country will be flooded with ‘imitation halloumi’ made cheaper in other countries, as many of them such as Bulgaria and Hungary have lower milk prices.
Cyprus has in 2014 applied for a halloumi as a protected designation of origin (PDO), which has been pending before the European Commission since then.
With the growing popularity abroad, the government has had to fight the production of cheeses imitating the traditional Cypriot product made in numerous countries.