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Cyprus's Cheesy Divide

As Eurasianet's Justin Vela recently pointed out, the dispute over who has the right to explore for oil and gas in the waters off the divided island of Cyprus has all the ingredients for a major geopolitical confrontation. But oil and gas are not the only natural resources that are fueling the Cyprus conflict. Turns out cheese is also one of the island's disputed commodities.

As anyone who has visited Cyprus knows, the island essentially runs on one kind of cheese, the rubbery, briny white kind known as "halloumi" in the Greek-speaking south and "hellim" in the Turkish north. As one Greek Cypriot website puts it, the cheese is "the flagship of Cyprus’s authentic cuisine." On both sides, the cheese -- made from a combination of goat, sheep and cow's milk -- is often fried or grilled in chunky strips. 

The cheese of either side of Cyprus's dividing Green Line might taste the same, but the issue of who gets to claim halloumi/hellim as their own is pitting the two parts of the island against each other. Greek Cyprus, which is a member of the European Union, has asked Brussels to give halloumi Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, which would mean that only Cypriot cheese could be given that name. Similar protection is offered to Stilton cheese from England and other European cheeses and food products.

The Turkish Cypriots, meanwhile, are crying foul and are trying to get support for giving the name hellim equal protection in the eyes of the EU. The issue, which has been cooking for several years, is only the latest food fight involving Cyprus. In the past, Greek Cyprus and Turkey have fought over who gets to claim to be the inventor of baklava, lahmacun and other food items. 

Meanwhile, it appears that the Greek Cypriots themselves can't agree on just what constitutes authentic halloumi. When the Cypriot government recently tried to enforce new standards for making the cheese, which would have upped the level of goat and sheep milk in halloumi in order to reflect the more traditional way of making it, irate dairy farmers responded by threatening to pour 400 tons of milk outside parliament in Nicosia. 

Cyprus's Cheesy Divide

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