NICOSIA – International lockdowns trying to slow the COVID-19 have left some 6 million kilos (13,3 million pounds) of Cyprus’ prized halloumi cheese, called “white gold” by producers and consumers, in cold storage stockpiles on the island.
Commerce Minister Natas Pilides told the Parliament that the government will use its embassies around the world to help speed exports of the product that’s renowned for its ability to be grilled without melting, like saganaki in Greece.
“Through the foreign ministry, we have contacted all the embassies to help dispose of stocks through bilateral arrangements,” she said, reported Agence France-Presse of the plan to reduce the backlog.
In April, the European Union registered halloumi as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) after a seven-year campaign although the Turkish-Cypriot occupied northern third of the island has a variation as well.
While cheesemakers said sales and exports are resuming they are moving fresh stocks instead of trying to sell older cheese to regular clients, fearing that would make prices fall, the report said.
“The option of sending larger quantities to our regular customers in the EU means we would have to bring down prices drastically, leading to a devaluation of the product,” Cyprus Dairy Producers Association official Andreas Andreou told the Financial Mirror newspaper.
In any case, halloumi stocks produced before Oct. 1 cannot carry the EU’s PDO brand, which is why authorities are seeking markets outside the bloc to try to sell off the inventory.
The distinctive salty cheese, which can be eaten fresh or barbequed, earned a record 260 million euros ($290 million) in 2020, with exports of 40,000 tons, a huge jump from 2013 when it brought in less than 76 million euros ($85.77 million.
Despite the pandemic, securing the PDO registration is expected to boost halloumi exports in the longer term with the United Kingdom – the island’s former Colonial ruler – the biggest market, taking in 50 percent of sales.
Cyprus filed a PDO application to the European Commission in July 2014 for the cheese made predominantly from sheep and/or goat’s milk that’s a staple on Cyprus.