In Cyprus, Former Pilot Makes Halloumi Cheese the Old Ways

    01 March 2024

    On a recent cold winter night in the Cypriot capital Nicosia, long lines of people began to form in a public parking area. The crowd was gathering for the arrival of cheesemaker Pantelis Panteli and the load of Halloumi he had for sale.

    Panteli is a relative newcomer to the tradition of Halloumi-making. He had a career as a pilot with Cyprus Airways until 2013, He lost the job as the former company started closing down. Panteli decided to try a very different line of work: cheese-making. The man had found his new career.

    But, now the newcomer has become an unlikely defender of traditional cheese-making for Cyprus's prized Halloumi.

    Pantelis Panteli (R) and a worker prepare halloumi on his farm in Kokkinotrimithia, Cyprus February 10, 2024. (REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou)
    Pantelis Panteli (R) and a worker prepare halloumi on his farm in Kokkinotrimithia, Cyprus February 10, 2024. (REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou)

    The European Union named Halloumi a product of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) in 2021. That means that only approved producers from Cyprus can market the cheese under that name. In exchange for the PDO, Cyprus agreed to increase the quantity of ewe or goat milk to just over 50 percent by July 2024.

    But Cypriot farmers are protesting the agreement over a dispute about the ingredients. Industry stakeholders say ewe and goat's milk is highly seasonal, and could therefore affect production levels. Cheese makers had threatened to shut their operations because there was not enough milk. And cattle-raising farmers were angered at the threat to the milk cow market.

    So Cyprus officials now plan to delay the agreement to 2029.

    Halloumi debate

    Soft, rubbery Halloumi can be eaten raw. There are also many ways to cook it --- over a fire or heated in liquid or oil. The cheese keeps its shape well in cooking. It is a popular food and the island's second largest export. Medicines are first.

    But there is a dispute within Cyprus about what makes true Halloumi cheese. Should it be made from cow's milk which has a mellower taste? Or should it be made from goat and ewe milk, as traditionalists argue?

    Panteli started making Halloumi with guidance from a family member. "It was all trial and error with a small pot, then a bigger pot - and just like Steve Jobs - in our garage," he said.

    He uses ewe's milk to make his Halloumi. He cooks the milk in rennet which thickens the liquid to a solid form called a curdle. After resting, curdles are cut and reheated. Panteli adds salt and puts them in a solution called brine for a few hours. Then, they are done and he prepares for market.

    Panteli only has a permit to sell directly to consumers. And he is limited to producing 150 liters of milk a day.

    But his product is popular. He makes videos on TikTok and the social media service X to let people know where to find him. He usually sells all his cheese within two hours of opening sales.

    "Nobody is making the real thing anymore, and that is our aim," Panteli said. He spoke to the Reuters news agency while standing near about 300 noisy sheep at his farm west of Nicosia.

    But some farmers on the Mediterranean island say that Panteli's method is not workable for all.

    Nicos Papakyriakou is head of the organization that represents cow farmers. He said that based on an older 1985 trade agreement, Halloumi cheese is made out of not only goat and ewes' milk but cows' milk as well.

    He says the mellow taste of cows' milk has permitted Halloumi to capture overseas markets. "The PDO says it should smell like a farm," he said. He questioned if people would buy it if it smelled "like goats!"

    I'm Caty Weaver.

    Michelle Kambas reported this story for Reuters. Hai Do adapted the story for Learning English.


    Words in This Story

    ingredient - n. things that are used to make a food product

    stakeholder - n. person or business that invests money in something

    mellow - adj. having a pleasing flavor

    garage - n. part of a building in which a car is kept

    rennet - n. a substance used in cheese-making to separate milk into curdles

    consumer - n. a person who buys goods and services