Cyprus’ white gold

Halloumi is a traditional Cypriot cheese that is increasingly in demand worldwide. One of the leading suppliers is Charalambides Christis, which relies on Hapag-Lloyd for exports to Oceania.

Limassol is the perfect tourist destination. The city on the southern coast of Cyprus has been ranked by TripAdvisor as the third most up-and-coming destination in the world. Limassol prides itself on its 16 kilometres of beautiful beachfront, with its clear blue waters and dark golden sand. And what’s especially important for Hapag-Lloyd: the Port of ­Limassol is the major seaport of this strategically located island. Not far away from the buzzling life at the beaches sits the biggest dairy producer in Cyprus: Charalambides Christis. The company produces cheese, yoghurt and other dairy products, some of which are exported to 32 countries across the world. The biggest of these markets are the United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany, Australia and Austria. We asked Exports Manager Stefanos Aloneftis about one of Cyprus’ biggest export products: halloumi.

Stefanos, what exactly is halloumi?

Halloumi is a famous cheese of Cyprus, a mixture of milk from cows, goats and sheep. There are several varieties, but the traditional one is a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk. It is predominantly considered a Cypriot cheese product within Cyprus and Greece, but also in Western and Northern Europe. In Cypriot gastronomy, halloumi is found on the menus of all traditional restaurants. And it is regularly used at home for several different dishes – be it salads, cheese pies, vegetarian kebabs or grated onto pasta dishes.

You are the biggest manufacturer of halloumi in Cyprus. What is the ­reason for the enormous growth in exports to Australia and the UK?

There is a good reason, as there are huge communities of Greeks and Cypriots in these countries. In fact, Melbourne is the third largest Greek city in the world, after Athens and Thessaloniki, if I may say so. And the UK also has huge Greek and Cypriot communities. In addition, Lebanese and Palestinians are good ambassadors of our cheese, so to speak, because they have already known the product for generations.

There is a lot of competition in the cheese business, especially for grilling cheeses like halloumi.

True. In supermarkets, you may see a lot of different grilling cheeses showing pictures of halloumi. But these products are much cheaper. This is because, in Cyprus, we unfortunately have the most expensive raw milk in the world. The average price for a kilogram of cow’s milk in Europe is 35 cents. Here in Cyprus, we can buy it for around 60 to 62 eurocents. Why so much more? Because the climate here is so hot and dry that we don’t have green pastures for our cattle. Instead, we need to import the fodder, which makes our product much more expensive.

Even with the higher prices, your exports are exploding…

Yes, we are seeing demand rise exponentially. Year after year, we are growing a lot. Take the United Kingdom: whereas we exported 3,000 tonnes to the UK in 2011, the figure was already 19,000 tonnes in 2020. Export volume to Australia has quadrupled, and it has tripled to ­Germany. This phenomenal growth has been driven by the expansion of supermarket chains in our key markets and ­increased adoption by consumers.

How has the pandemic impacted your business?

Unfortunately, 2021 has been a difficult year. Our growth will be much lower than before. We have been impacted by lockdowns and closures of restaurants and hotels in the key tourist destinations here in Cyprus, but also in Greece and several other countries worldwide. And, of course, we have also had some issues with container availability here in Cyprus. There haven’t always been enough reefer containers available for us.

How would you describe your ­cooperation with Hapag-Lloyd?

Although you are more expensive than others, we are happy to work with you. Fortunately, some of our customers prefer to load with you – especially in New Zealand and Australia, because we use your services mainly to Oceania. And I promise you: if you lower your rates, we will gladly load more with Hapag-Lloyd.

Halloumi has been produced in Cyprus since ancient times. The first reference to the cheese can be found in a document by Doge Leonardo Donna (1556) written during the Venetian occupation of the island. Since then at the latest, halloumi has been a key ingredient in the diet of Cypriots. The protein source was made in most houses, in farmers’ sheepfolds, and in cheese dairies. The breeders of Cyprus relied on halloumi – a convenient way to preserve milk. In many villages, the whole community came together and formed cooperatives so that they could make better and more halloumi. The recipes varied from village to village, and each one had its own unique techniques and secret ingredients. In fact, halloumi became so important for the life of the villages that several ­families in the 19th century had surnames such as Halloumas, Hallouma, Halloumakis or Halloumis.

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