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Halloumi-nating decision to protect Cypriot cheese

July 28, 2015

Halloumi, or hellim, cheese from the island nation of Cyprus has been approved for special EU status. The project underscored the challenges ahead as the country tries to end decades of division between north and south.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Scholz

Perhaps Cyprus' greatest gift to the culinary world, halloumi cheese, also called hellim in Turkish, became an unlikely symbol of a united island on Tuesday when the European Union moved to recognize it as a protected cheese from both the Turkish and Greek sides of the country. That means the salty, chewy cheese may only be called halloumi if it produced on Cyprus itself.

The island was forcibly separated in 1974 during Greece's military junta into a Greek Cypriot south and a Turkish Cypriot north. Despite joining the EU in 2004, only the southern half enjoys the benefits of membership and decades of attempts at reconciliation, facilitated by the EU and the UN, have been unsuccessful. Even a deal on the cheese took months of protracted negotiations.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, however, hailed the two sides coming together to protect the status of halloumi as a sign of commitment from both "to work together on projects unifying the whole island."

"Halloumi/Hellim cheese symbolizes the shared heritage of the island of Cyprus," Juncker said, two weeks after his visit to the island where he met with leaders of both the Greek and Turkish communities there.

The full approval procedure could still take up to five months, but afterwards will also allow Turkish halloumi producers to export their product to the EU through ports on the southern half of the island.

Though united in pride over their famous cheese, the Turkish and Greek parts of Cyprus are a long way from unification. The peace process only resumed in May of this year after an eight-month break caused by disagreements between the Cypriot and Turkish governments over gas and oil exploration.

es/kms (AP, dpa)