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Issue 03: "Halloumi is the cultural polygraph for the diaspora's feelings"

Putting together the piece ‘Halloumi could reunite Cyprus’ was a process of many wonderful conversations. Due to the limited space a magazine has, we couldn’t print all of Anthony’s words but felt it was important to published, and we all agreed to post this work here. We share this work in memory of Anthony, who sadly passed away on 3 August 2023.

Cheesemaker and founder of Kupros Dairy, the late Anthony Heard, shared his thoughts on halloumi (and hellim) and the politics surrounding it, on how the cheese is made, and its role in Cypriot identity in London and elsewhere. Heard generously presented his myriad thoughts that communicate the spirit and specificity of Cypriotness and the poetic rituals in making halloumi, which reflect a real sacredness to the cheese and his relationship with it

How is halloumi made?

Take fresh milk straight from sheep or goats who can express milk after giving birth. You need a similar protein to fat ratio to ensure you make the best cheese. The animals in my opinion ideally need to have a naturalistic life with occasional stress from being outside and having some predators. The breeds of animal ideally should be hardy breeds that can survive harsh terrain and low-quality forage, with the ability to roam and forage in mountain or hillside with a large variety of wild herbaceous flora with rich sward nutrients from barley and the several dozen naturally occurring edibles on the island the breed of animal should be able to convert low-quality forage into nutrient dense milk, which is why ruminants are so essential to the thriving of human civilisation, as we are able to digest the food those animals produce after converting forage we cannot. You do not want low fat, no matter what any recipe says or what a supermarket sells. Low-fat no lactose is a scam, certainly low-fat halloumi is oxymoronic, as with any cheese or dairy product unless that is the natural state of the product.

This is milked into a clay vessel which looks like a watering can called a galaterin. Pour your already warm milk through a fine bed sheet to remove any dirt or hairs from milking into a copper or cast iron cauldron called a kazania which was specifically for cheesemaking (better to strain fatty milk whilst warm otherwise the fat is also strained off), the body temperature of the animal should be warm enough to coagulate. If not, heat gently with local non-resinous hardwood that has been dried which no-doubt imbues organoleptic qualities beyond detection. The gentle heat from wood should allow a 200-300 litre cauldron to be heated in controllable steps. Stir the milk with reed or fig branches tied together with hard wild herbs which have positive microbial properties. This was called a matsura (made of twigs) about a metre long which was gentle but had the microbial properties which inferred some specificity to each village.

Once at body temperature, you check by putting your finger in the warming milk until you can’t notice your finger went in. A substance is added, called pithkia, which is the rennet used to coagulate the milk for making cheese. You can use lamb, kid or even pig rennet, but it must be from an animal which has not yet eaten grass that has only consumed milk from its mother purely because the animal ceases to produce the enzymes required to make cheese once it does wean off its mother’s milk. Usually it's harvested from still-borns. The small stomach is cleaned, inflated like a bag or balloon, and dried with salt until hard. It is then cut into small pieces to be rehydrated with either salted whey or salted milk before any new make. You will strain that liquid and use it to coagulate your milk to make cheese — this separates the solids from the noros (whey). Pithkia is sometimes mixed with dried wild spearmint, especially if it were ground up into a powder. Once you add the pithkia, you would sign the cross over the milk to ensure it sets, this symbology is key to the attitude toward the food being made as any issues with the milk or cheese were saved rather than thrown out. The attitude that it is a gift rather than an exploit is in reversal to consumerist produced food we see today, throwing food was not something people did.

It’s quite unusual to use pig rennet, but both pig and kid rennet cause higher proteolysis in the cheese which I personally think is a good thing in a very young cheese breaking down proteins into amino acids and can give some good character. However this happens very quickly in halloumi because rennet enzymes are deactivated almost entirely during the final steps of production. However, as usually high levels of proteolysis is unwanted as it can break down proteins too quickly, which in turn breaks down the integrity of the cheese eventually into a pool of alcoholic smelling rancidity. When dealt with properly it can be interesting, so shouldn’t be ignored in the cheesemaking process even if it seems undesirable. Any remnants in a mature halloumi adds a depth of flavour which you wouldn’t expect from halloumi.

Once the milk looks like glass with a little noros found on the surface of the milk gel use your hands and arms hands breaking pieces up (again first in the sign of a cross a few times) knocking some fats and minerals out but nonetheless will be useful later in the making of anari cheese. As the temperature increases and once the curds float from the noros, the curd loses its moisture and slightly toughens up the exterior of the curd, this will be key to achieving the right final texture in the cheese, which should be flakey, layered and resembling slightly overcooked chicken breast. Correct moisture is achieved through stirring until you can drop the curd from around 30cm without the curd breaking. At this point we need to use river reed (sklinitzia is the plant name, incidentally used to make a type of local pasta called makaronia so a tube is achieved) baskets called talaria which are handmade and have good flexibility and fast drainage with the additional microbial benefits as all the materials used so far. You can quite literally bend and squash the baskets with the curds. Once curds are collected in the cheese baskets they’re gently kneaded to express some further whey and turned one by one until little to no whey is coming out. Meanwhile the whey is being drained and simultaneously heated in the same cauldron the curds came from.

Heat the whey until it starts to foam a little and add a little fresh milk to this. Wait a while until curds start to precipitate to the surface of the now-clarified whey. This is anari, a type of whey cheese, which is drained once again in the talaria baskets and either eaten fresh in anaripitta, bourekia anari, or dried in stockings until it becomes firm and is used in pasta dishes alongside the halloumi. Once the halloumi curds are drained, they are poached in clarified hot whey (after making anari cheese from the remaining whey solids) and poached until they float. Here is where you may keep them poaching for a while longer as it caramelises the proteins in the cheese. This is called red halloumi, and when it's bought out early it is white halloumi.

Remove the cheese from the whey, sprinkle with sea salt flakes and fresh or dried spearmint, fold the cheese to ensure the correct texture is achieved and place locally grown fresh herbs in the middle, if not folded, that is the style and texture of that village. The whey is cooled and sea salt is added. Add the cheese to the brine until the cheese is well seasoned. Eat what is freshly made and the remaining is left in the brine to be kept over winter when the sheep and goats aren’t expressing enough milk. There is life in the whey which can although not change the structure but will through osmosis recalibrate the minerals required for long term brine storage. The moisture will reduce and fat content will increase overtime slightly alongside its flavour. Soak in milk, whey or water or even poach in any of these liquids before eating or cooking with. Just like bacalao. Any leftover whey is mixed with yiourti to make ayrani, which is a salted minty fresh tasting yoghurt drink from sheep and/or goat’s milk, and absolutely delicious for breakfast and with roasted meats.

Halloumokouza is where you store the cheese after the cheese and whey has covered the cheese. Hot olive oil with herbs and soapwort are added to prevent worms or maggots, and interestingly it may have prevented fat leaching and falling apart, as the whey is used to prevent mineral leaching. Soapwort is also an ingredient used in halva for similar reasons. Just walking around the Cypriot countryside you will see everything you need is there in abundance, even these pretty soapwart flowers. The irony is that even through hundreds of years of colonial rule from the French, Venetians, Ottomans, and then the British, the culture and foodways have retained and celebrated throughout Cyprus giving a distinct expression of the people, language and its landscape. Which is why Cypriot identity is distinct from Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Israel, Italy, and so on even if etymologically many words have roots in Arabic culture rather than Turkish or Greek. Like the Shamishi meaning of the Syrians, which is a delicious pastry made in Cyprus, Syria, and Lebanon. Whoever had the most wealth in the region had enough resources to document and claim as their own, whereas Cypriot culture over the last thousand years is much like southern Italy and Crete, strong identity distinct but.

Where is halloumi from and what are its origin stories?

The 1550s is the oldest known record of halloumi produced anywhere in the world, however, there are documents from the royal courts in Cyprus from the 1300s discussing anari cheese which can only be made after producing halloumi. It’s clear to me that this style of cheese was made for well over 1000 years like the wine commandaria, the oldest drink ‘brand’ in the world. In art, halloumi has been represented for several hundred years. The word is of Arabic origin however I doubt it was popularised. Like with any food, its spiritual home is where those who make and eat it ingratiate it. The technologies are familiar across the world with different local ingredients, environments, and cultural expressions, and those of the day who are talented enough to transform ingredients into something that surpasses and augments mere sustenance.

What does this cheese mean to you? As both a product/food and as a representation of identity and/or belonging?

I'm not exaggerating when I say that halloumi allowed me to see behind the curtain and has given me more meaning than I ever expected to discover. I do think this is something people from their own cultures can seek out, it is a portal… It is sacred to me personally, however I'm not against making something inspired by the sensibilities so i have made a 100% cows’ milk halloumi and it’s great as the milk was super high quality and made with respect, it doesn't give me the same feeling but nonetheless if made well, any food can be great and [I] have mentioned this in previous interviews, and can create its own new thing.

I love to see things shoot off in good directions; if it's not an improvement or does not offer anything then what's the point, it's just about appropriation and coat-tail riding. There is no right or wrong with food, only things we like or don't [like] for whatever reasons. Which is why I find it contentious to trademark and PDO or patent food which is significantly inferior to what has been traditionally, as those who use that inferior version become validated to perpetuate not only its mediocrity but the meaning it carries. I'm referring to industrially produced foods which carry PDO labels as I mentioned before the problems become larger too. Food should be decentralised not centralised and overly commodified. At this moment in time, my main passions revolve around making and changing my personal experience with food permanently and for the better. it's going to take a while for me to justify to myself to even consider writing a book! My main work right now is about building a better food system that we can all experience everyday, not just for a select few.

Noam Chomsky said, “The structure of language determines not only thought, but reality itself.” As I see food as a temporal version of shared language, not just in our hyper specific nomenclature but the embedding millennia worth of shared knowledge, skill, nostalgia, storytelling, tradition, necessity and invention, there was no need to write things down if it were passed on everyday. I’m sure at no point did we ever envisage such disruption and destruction to our innate human desire to steward and make as we have experienced in the last 100 years. We are no longer custodians of our ancestors’ language — we are users, we are brands, we are made to think of ourselves as hyper individual selfish beings and therefore the human code degrades, the spirit loses its. So when food is trademarked, patented, restricted, restrained, gate kept, embargoed, banned, sanctioned, oppressed, sanitised and so on, we are oppressing the human desire to make, share, and prevent self-determination by those find themselves displaced, we are made to think we are wrong; it’s like calling a human an 'illegal' how can a human be illegal.

We almost certainly foraged and shared food, perhaps even cooked food before we developed spoken language so it seems impossible to me that food is not innately part of our desire to communicate and story tell. Every aspect of halloumi in its purest form expresses this. Food from an ideological singular or homogenous/reductionist perspective is depressing, vacuous and lacking meaning like lab made soylent (a vision of George Monbiot's who loves to indulge in ideological non-humanistic single metric arguments which oddly tend to lean toward favouring the centralisation and industrialising our food.. he is a man who has lost touch with our soul and what food means to civilisation); food when alive is diverse, sentient, emotional and visceral full of undetectable, unpronounceable, and inescapable sentience that has facilitated and fuelled civilisations for thousands of years. Surely something as essential to life as food became a form of story-telling otherwise what would be the difference between us and bacteria.

I feel there is a strong argument for food as language and that there is something to be learned of any and all food production around the world in every environment. The progress we should seek is to remove exploitation from our food in every dimension whilst remaining humanistic.

Ontologically I think we are wired to curate or design our own environments and experiences in a mixture of self deterministic ways that contribute to our overall physical and mental well being. I think it’s intrinsically tied to our upbringing and environment for better and for worse. If the wider set of environmental circumstances or benefits can facilitate this I think we gain forms of contentment in our life and belonging, if we cannot express ourselves by surrounding and building our own personal environment and situationally positioning ourselves near other people and places that support this I feel it starts to disintegrate this fabric of belonging, which is why I think it's important to retain or build on traditions into new traditions whatever that is and wherever you are. If you don't that space will always be filled by something else at best a simulacrum, which is always a corporate hologram that is vacuous and depressing.

In other words, me making the food, building on that language and in full-circle sharing it with friends and family both in the UK and in Cyprus connects me more than speaking the language or going to shop or restaurant. The making and the sharing is a very human thing, its a very Cypriot thing and halloumi is central to this which is why I wanted to share this with others as people couldn’t access this version of the cheese which had become so rare and still is. For example growing up in North London you’d have thought we would have this stuff on tap, however it wasn’t a weekly trip to the shops maybe once a month at most to pick up Cypriot stuff or pick up a parcel sent to the Cypriot grocer who acted as a sort of proxy importer. So that connection wasn’t as often as you think, it diminished further as I grew up as less and less Cypriot stores were around and was filled by supermarket humous and unrecognisable cheese. Food is the most sentient thing but the image of food is build up of many fragments. This is from anything from colours, texture, objects, ephemera, lighting, sounds and most transiently food or fragrances. I get huge pleasure which is built up of personal nostalgia, organoleptic sentience and its physical object, eating, looking and cooking with the symbolism of halloumi and the things I like to surround myself with. To clarify this isn’t a consumerist perspective although some have morphed into this, I believe this to be part of human language.

Typological symbols we curate to remind and reinforce the spirit of things we cannot say or feel are felt through all of the above. Somehow these things and especially transient objects become powerful portals. I get a lot of pleasure out of the poetry of crafting those details together. It is always something new, never old and for me that's exciting, it's not a simulacrum like the Tesco version, it is it’s own new thing that has never existed before, which has its own character and distinctiveness. Building my own present through my food has allowed me to harmonise in my mind my own belonging, not overly venerating the past or those who have always just been there as often that isn’t the signifier of good, or quality, it can do but its more to do with money, power and everything else that has nothing to do with food and identity or belonging. I don't feel comfort in those places, but I have comfort in making and sharing food. It's a very maternal expression, in a very maternalistic culture it makes sense.

Whenever I got back to Cyprus, I always go and see producers, whether its an elderly person selling stuff on the side of the road, or a small hut or in a shop , restaurant or small factory. Some experiences don’t feel ‘complete’ without a good version of it but can equally spoil an experience if it’s bad. I can imagine many people take things personally in their own culture. Whenever we have family gatherings around the souvla in Cyprus, I need to find the best freshest well-made halloumi possible and it makes a world of difference. Something meat and veg cannot do alone but a processed food like cheese like halloumi is embedded with a lot of resonance. Cooking meat and veg in a style does not do this for me, it's hard to explain which is why I'm often very turned off restaurant food.

So it was not just the food it was the family to share this with, as growing up I may have had halloumi with friends and I remember cooking halloumi at a bbq for mates the first time maybe I was 17/18? And they did not get it at all. It was on a little disposable bbq in Shoreditch park, with a pack from a local Kurdish supermarket. It wasn't a particularly good piece of cheese but I still enjoyed the sharing and everyone still remembers that experience even now mentioning this random thing I cooked for them. Now they get it a bit more, thanks to Nando’s. However the way in which I was brought up, in the environments I was brought up in, it’s not totally conducive to this experience. So the sense of the object becomes heightened and excitement is larger than if it were ubiquitous as it is in Cyprus. The supermarket and chain ubiquity in the UK only spoils it for me. It tarnishes and attempts to invalidate my memories which I resent and which formed part of the impetus to make my own. It especially depresses me when its spoken about in such commercial ways and the need to use inferior depressing attempts of the cheese. For me at this very moment food ceases to be about food but just simulacrum and making up for otherwise poor business models, and yes Cypriots are doing it themselves with their own food. I just feel if you respect what you do and serve that respect will be reflected back on you, not about making things cheap or accessible, food is cheaper in the UK than almost anywhere in the world. it's not about food prices, it's about ensuring people are paid less and it all goes hand in hand alongside the damaging ideologies so identity morphs into other things at this point which people either care for or not.

I felt personally aggrieved that the cheese was becoming popular yet the main experience of halloumi was of this bland homogenous intensively produced version. I constantly go back to Cyprus and eat at the places I love to remind myself and recalibrate to those sensibilities, the cheese is not cheaper in Cyprus, it’s actually ironically more expensive. Too often we prioritise financialised perspectives over a more sentient experience, even if that expression is new and unique without tradition so long as it is made with care, attention and good sensibilities it will carry way more meaning and value to a level I personally and innately gravitational pull to toward.

Cypriot culture is and has always been very aural/ oral like many female led food cultures. The nature of how Halloumi was made gives you insight too: the women in each household of each village, especially in mountainous villages used to pile their milk together to make the cheeses. Galatarka the most experienced women (the cheese women) gala is milk. I personally feel robbed of my family's history so I felt like I needed to create something. Robbed of memories, inheritance of skills, property, belonging, no ephemera or written memories, objects, nothing. I do feel like our family in London was always just passing through. Especially since our family who settled in Islington got compulsory purchased and forced out of the area even after settling so the main commonality we share is food, it's the one thing that is stable, but both transient and forever at the same time, transcending generations crossing all languages.

Those Cypriots who didn’t have this stuff to contend with I think have very different expressions of their identity, thats just my feeling rightly or wrongly. So don't really get sentimental about anything cultural or identity, its more about the now and the future and how food places such a major roll in achieving a nice life.

What role does halloumi play in the space of diaspora, and in particular in London?

Decades ago, Cypriots owned many corner shops, grocer stores, kebab shops, fish and chip shops and little cafes and restaurants. Culturally, halloumi was and still is visible in the kebab shops, sandwich bars, grocery stores but has always been expressed at baptism, weddings, and funerals. Sold outside churches every Sunday as a means to keep connected to the homeland. Serving up fresh cheese and bakery pastries outside the church is not something that is allowed ad hoc anymore severing that connection and narrowing the way in which people are exposed.

In most, it's a means to an end part of everyone's weekly food habits, a habit like in all modern cultures, watered down by what’s accessible, available and cheap like all cultures and foods in the UK. the ideas I've discussed are rarely represented anymore in favour of consumerist attitudes and experiences, quantity over quality, price over everything else, which is constantly invalidating what’s come before it and what always determines the present and the future as being too expensive or whatever the excuse is. However, and fortunately many Cypriots will still bring back cheese from Cyprus in their suitcase it’s a running meme as old as I am. When I was 18 I bought back a whole suitcase of cheese, pastries, soutoukos and other delicious things, stuff that you can get in London but not as good. Peoples freezers are full with halloumi, they will always have some family members still in cyprus who knows someone who can make it or from a good local dairy, this is the stuff that is retained, the rest thats in restaurants and consumed is just filler, its not that its more special its just globalisation, the EU and other mechanisms make it difficult to buy good things anymore so we are left with bland trademarked indifference. Those good things come at a price, and that price is complexity which determines if it makes it overseas or not.

So those who choose to express and consume through simulacrums of their identity are doing so as consumers; those who want to retain traditions of their identity seek out halloumi which represents. Most will go along with that scam which doesn’t benefit us, we as a community in most keep feeding that and validating it hence why non-Cypriots are so confused all the time - yes I am sympathising with cultural appropriation and misaligned values I will explain below.

The Real Greek serves a grilling cheese made in Eastern Europe, made for £3/kg industrially, with industrial processes and cheap labour but labelled as halloumi, in a restaurant called The Real Greek. This sums up London and people's perception of the Cypriot diaspora but its not challenged, I shall not spell it out any more. This representation is so pervasive even the highest echelons of British cheese society didn’t understand the difference (even if it was swiftly adjusted). How much respect does this show Cypriot community and its diaspora. To be honest we dont care, our grandparent and parents grew up with racism and disrespect much like other diaspora who came to the UK after the war. We keep ourselves to ourselves take it on the chin and crack on and just make people shit versions of our food in restaurants and shops (with a couple of exceptions of course) as we’ve already had 70+ years of humiliation, the older generation stopped doing it for themselves once it became too difficult to represent and respect their food as importing from smaller producers became impossible over the last 20 years. It was the final humiliation, they could no longer respectfully represent their identity in the ways in which they wanted to express themselves, only how the EU or major corporations would validate those expressions. If people reading this sentence are offended there isn’t much I can do to explain this point, you either understand it or you dont.

Homogeneity of values, trademarks, accreditations and so on have reduced our expression of self, identity to a singular way of thinking and working. This runs counter to how language, society and culture is built over thousands of years. Some may argue why are you complaining, its “raised standards” people are not getting sick, things are cheap, smooth and affordable. These are all Neo-liberal arguments which have subsequently corroded society , boxed people into neat categorises and raised the entry level of things we grew up with taking for granted. This is not unique to Cyprus but the sanitisation and single perspective that is projected of our culture is demoralising and disrespectful. Most diaspora don't have the time or energy to think or fight these ideas and just accept what is there. Its a shame but I get it.

I would say it’s changed and the diaspora haven’t truly benefited from the success of halloumi if anything the opposite. Any sniff of a Cypriot making cheese outside of Cyprus and you get sent big scary legal letters like I don't have Cypriot DNA or my family never made it.. this is the Cypriots themselves inspired by globalised neoliberal structures. You think but the stuff you are defending is shit you’re actually destroying our culture as a result of it whereas I’m actually ensuring it’s future by connecting with its purpose and cultural sensitivities and making new culture for those who live now in the present. Antipodean business in London has always welcomed what we do with some experiences of the diaspora in NZ and Australia whose environment is far more suited to expressing our culture, it's just interesting how they have respected our culture far more than the UK.

The best expression that the diaspora could go to as a refuge was and always will be Andreas Michli & Sons on Salisbury Road off Green Lanes in Harringay, he was the goat a true bakkali, not sure we'll ever see anything like that place ever again unfortunately (I may give it ).... I think he always deserves a mention in my opinion as was one of the first if not the first in London, he made halloumi in a waterloo railway arch with a young lady from Cyprus getting milk from Devon by train. He always had his ear close to the ground, sourced things in season, shot his own game for his shop and imported lace, wicker and ceramics on top of the rare and hard to get hold of plants, herbs, spices and seasonal produce and church ephemera and wider literature, made in Cyprus from cured meats, the best cheese yoghurt and tarhanas. To olive leaves for burning and other incense .. the spirit of that place is both haunting and inspiring and what pushed me to do what I do. He is known in cyprus by old and young and was the last spiritual home for the diaspora, unforgiving and rough around the edges focussed on what mattered, things being good a perfect blend of local and Cypriot produce but always felt Cypriot. He validated what I did there are few who i'd be able to do that with now.

It's haunting because it was a constant reminder of the on-going partition in Cyprus, and reminds me how we have no ephemera, family sentiments that go back further than the 1970s as it was all left in the villages in Cyprus with our remaining family in Cyprus. Our family was in what people regard as the north of Cyprus now, I dont personally make the distinction and now I get irritating questions like "which part are you from"... there is no part its just Cyprus. The island was fully of mixed villages which was reflected in the language which is a hybrid of archaic Greek, Cypriot village Greek, Turkish, Turkish Cypriot, Arabic and Cypriot Maronite which is one of the most unique and endangered dialects in the world. You were bought up on conversations where it had mixed inflections.

Halloumi somehow always represents what is going on perfectly in the above, it is the cultural polygraph for the diasporas feelings as a group of people.

What are the political elements at play with halloumi?

Normative isomorphism explains all the issues driving ideological naturalisation, which is crushing cultural identity through things like food and halloumi production very easily in small countries like Cyprus. Tonnes, PDO and who has license to the trademark. So EU law (PDO) and international law with trademark patent. Cypriots have to apply to even use the term even if you are making the cheese to a hyper traditional standard. It’s depressing how more people have accepted these T&Cs. It included the change-over in 2024 to transition from 80% cows milk as a maximum standard to 50% cows milk as a maximum standard however the sheep and goat farmers have been forced to expand before the transition meaning they are having to throw milk down the drain and sell to producer for less than it costs them to produce each litre. There were heavy protests in Nicosia in May 2022 where dairy farmers dumped thousands of litres of sheep and goats milk on the parliamentary grounds in protest. If there were routes to market as there were before, a decentralised network of markets and avenues for sale this would never be an issue, there is decreasing levels of self determination as a result.

Halloumi as a name has played a hugely significant role in power sharing talks between the last good Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı and Nicos Anastasiades. As a major cultural and economic symbol for the island it cannot be excluded from conversations, but I feel as a result its done more harm than good damaging those who are living in Cyprus.

All of these rules are to satisfy liberal homogeneity and globalisation at the expense of a highly self sufficient society the islands skills are depleting, cultural interest is waning in favour of consumerist ideals. But some parts of the youth who spend a lot of time with their grandparents are reconnecting and by doing so circumventing all of the political bullshit thats surrounded the island for several decades. We now have extremely intelligent political activists , writers, artists, film-makers, farmers and producers who understand what has happened and how to connect to rebuild the future. But until the gatekeepers stand-aside nothing is going to change, moreover, with Tatar and Erdogan forming a ultra strong Neo-Ottoman alliance its overpowering the genuine Turkish-Cypriot culture that is left. To the level we saw well known Turkish-Cypriot artists, beaten up and jailed for having liberal modernistic views, at least the ROC has genuine human rights protecting the island unlike the Wild West over the border, but that Wild West has become genuine no-mans land where belonging goes as far as the village, this is why I believe food is the commonality that can connect and reunite the island if it were possible to galvanise a shared voice at each political epoch in cyprus, more division, confusion and separation happens. Those who were displaced and lost everything as opposed to those who simply migrated carry very different sentiments toward their personal identity. The irony there was "ethnic exchanges" in the old Ottoman empire of millions of native greeks in modern day turkey and an exchange happened confuses the narrative further those ghosts of the past have now became spectres for all Cypriot communities, these spectres have been inherited indiscriminately as odd mutated memories causing conflict and division this somehow edged in the Cyprus issue used by nationalists to form arguments in the 60s and 70s after Cyprus achieved “independence” from crumbling the British empire. The US, Greece, turkey and UK all played their role in culturally putting Cypriots against one another, unfortunately some bought into the fear which was funded by the larger powers and caused conflict. Those very larger powers have alot of dominance in what happens in cyprus now and effects specifically how halloumi is made, where the money comes from, who is allowed to produce it, who’s factories get burned down and so on.

In modern day Cyprus, authoritarianism from Erdogan's proxy leader Tatar is disguised as "Turkish Cypriot" decision making. The truth being, the Turkish government have given citizenship to mainland Turkish citizens to settle in Cyprus who are sympathetic to Erdogan, those people have now had children and are forming their own opinions and identities, which has diluted the power and expressions of identity that we had decades ago producing a huge mess that can never be unravelled. Turkish-Cypriot citizens often feel safer to identify as Turkish rather than Cypriot even if their specific identity is being eroded from all sides. The whole landscape is a mess and halloumi perfectly reflects this all in where its sold, its naming and quality, how much sold etc But the commonalities in Cypriot culture is halloumi/helim how its produced and eaten in families homes is the same, everyone knows this, and the identities that are being projected on our behalf dont represent what we all think, believe and experience on the ground.

Is something more of a tradition if its written down, the distribution of information through printing press was controlled by central authority so even without strong written history Cypriot identity remains distinct through its intentionality toward its environment halloumi has expressed this until recent times, but war, colonialism, globalisation, corporate and institutional homogenisation has oppressed the diversity of expressions.

I want to see us move away from the “the hegemony of modernity's one-world ontology” which is propped up by singular expressions of culture and blending of cultures into perceived “parent cultures” like Greece and Turkey … I dont think people really understand the pervasiveness to all our lives over how we are able to actually express ourselves and halloumi is such a great example of this, demonstrating a sanitised version which gradually bleeds away from the complex (Cypriot, Turkish and Greek Cypriot, Maronite, Egyptian, Lebanese, Syrian etc) into Greek or Turkish cheese… we need to celebrate complexity and specificity, but corporate and political powers don't like or want this so we will lose this unless we reject the overarching oligarchical power structures that has centralised power and expression of identity in such a short period of time. We can unravel this, but the money has to come from elsewhere and we need to stop being consumers by investing in ourselves and our own communities by financially, time and in all other ways.

This is why the middle east is incompatible with western thinking, from EU hegemony and so on, the ideology is so pervasive that it intrudes and dismantles thousands of years of innate undocumented language. A vernacular I see through halloumi that many cant to the point in modern dairy science and technical production the details I've laid out above have been cast aside as superfluous - yet nobody makes good halloumi commercially .. you do the maths, its all a game of invalidating marginal cultures in favour of dominant methodologies in science , economics and inherited culture. I reject all of this. The plurality of halloumi uses, seems wildly misunderstood by most — because people apply western thinking, a piece of brie in its most appalling state could be a mouldy piece of bland rubber with no redeemable qualities , however if made lovingly in the most respectful way, brie can be one of the most complex subtle and beautiful expressions of the animals breed and spectrum milk can offer to reflect its landscape. This is a hugely political and power dynamic issue that can not be argued within a hyper coporatised and financialised system.

Ignoring an idea, a flavour, a fragrance, a way of making something, a food based on your personal experience is no good reason to dismantle it, driven purely by political ideology to justify its actions, we have seen receding specificity over the last 20 years especially since economic crash and covid. A narrowing of expression justified by economic and political gains.

When you're under neo-colonialism through Greece, UK, Turkey, the EU and the US, its extremely hard for small states, and islanders to negate this power grip, as on one hand it becomes the hand that feeds you without good relations you subject yourself to economic isolation - Cyprus could never do a Cuba. EU accession homogenised production making entry level higher for those who just wanted to top up their pension , women worked their jobs and pooled their milk from the few animals they had in their evenings or weekends to make cheese to top up their income… if you dont have correct facilities you will be fined and banned from operating. People lived, worked, ate and sold food in small parcels of land for thousands of years now they are faced with sanitisation and oppression, forced to sell land to corporations and so on. This is reflected in the halloumi that is available in the UK and cypriot supermarkets. This isn’t just apparent with halloumi production there are studies around the microbiology of Comte milk production too. The pervasiveness of these rules bleed into everyday life, and chip away at our ability to self determinate , entry level to life has become so high that people are left with little choice but to work in banal jobs that serve little to no purpose to their personal existence anymore. All in the name of what?

The horrible irony is large scale production bought on and encouraged by institutions has meant horrific listeria issues , poor quality welfare for animals leading to such excessive use of antibiotics that Sweden even called for a ban on Cypriot dairy products. Horrendous levels drought, forest fire, chemical use on farms and so on. Industrial levels of ingredient adulteration even with PDO food products, these failures are hidden or under reported as would undermine the layers of ideology and middle management that have decayed cultures for the last few decades. The International “community” said you, Cyprus, are halloumi, so lets make it international on one hand said we are going to grant you a way to make it the second largest export after pharmaceutical production but on the other hand we will dismantle your entire identity by bleeding it into and homogenising with your neighbours to enslave people in Northern Europe to hyper consumerism and cheap food. This has demoralised the diaspora into a lull and apathy, little diversity or personal relationships are able to be forged anymore as a result of industrialisation and institutionalisation.

The EU's hand is not about openness but about protectionism towards oligarchical powers and Cyprus is one of the largest oligarchical havens in the world now as a result . Nobody seems to like it when I talk about this stuff but we don’t seem to be able to be pluralistic these days you should be hypercritical of the institutions that hold so much power over all our lives no matter how much other perceived value it brings. Ultimately my point is Cyprus was closer to reuniting the island pre EU accession than the dire state its in now. Halloumi was used as the carrot to lure Cypriots in only to be used as another bargaining chip. The Cyprus I went to in 1998 is very different to what it is now and very different to the Cyprus of 1969 my mum often looks back so fondly of, a bucolic pastoral and peaceful existence my mum speaks of when she toured the island with my grandparents as a child is rarely reflected or respected anymore, dismantled through the institutions, war, propaganda, globalisation all propagated by the islands main cultural signifier halloumi as the carrier.

My personal opinion is that it sanitised the culture towards an Americanism, a consumerist americanism not even European, much like the UAE has become so hyper-consumerist in its values. Power hoarding, Chinese and Russian money laundering meanwhile the spirit of Cyprus has been reduced to its pre-colonial past. Kissinger infected Cyprus which made people paranoid and funded the press to create a hatred which manifest into outbreaks of real world violence. The junta funded by Kissinger from Athens which promised ENOSIS was a fairy tale to lure and disrupt the power dynamics in the Middle East, it promised to reunite with the “motherland” a completely made up ideology. Genetically Cypriots have more in common with Italians and Persians than those from Greece. Culturally we are similar to Cretans however they retained some independence from mainland . Nobody has stood up since 1960 to say we are Cypriots and this is Cyprus, having carried the distinctive culture through hundreds of years of colonial rule why in 1974 did we need this fallacious ENOSIS. Kissinger knew this would create division and reawaken the spectres that never existed before, just replaying the British Empire's world view on everyone of an older better time that never actually existed to sell war and division. Now we have consumerism, but its just enslaved us to an even worse ideology which has handed power to multinationals who couldn’t care less about halloumi or cultural sensitivities , its worse than war as its ever lasting and removes our ability en-mass to connect with each other humanistically . So I think halloumi could reunite cyprus if we chose to dismantle consumerism and reconnect with the spirit of what it is to be cypriot, as played out in dances, songs, art, ceremonies and our food.

cypriot Abdullah korkmazhan who is general secretary of the left movement in cyprus was detained in Ankara in June 2022, and deported back to cyprus for his beliefs in “freedom , equality and peace” in cyprus and is apparently a threat to the republic of turkey. He is another cypriot who is blacklisted for wanting a better cyprus. This man will have the same values and traditions as I and my family yet he now lives where my family were made refugees from and lives in a country only recognised by turkey where he just got banned from… We are connected through the food we eat and if that is eroded in such a hostile political landscape that aims to dismantle our identities through things like halloumi production we cease to have shared cultural identity as Cypriots anymore . The weaker those traditions become the weaker the connections with different cypriot communities, after all we all identify just about with that idea of the village, the horatiko . My yiayia’s all used turkey words and spoke fluent when they were younger .

This is another reason why I think its more important than ever for the diaspora to connect through our shared memories of halloumi as its only just been dismantled in the last 20 years or less.

Culturally in cyprus, Cypriots are still going through the high fat food rejection nonsense we have seen in the UK, favouring low fat highly processed convenient but perceivably healthy foods is just abhorrent to watch, however there is a small unit of incredible food producers old and young, we need to unite this somehow to prove this decentralised identity still exists we all know it and feel it, but its proving harder to prove it anymore. There is a good damn reason 3 generations of my grandmother great and great great grandmother were all nearly or over 100 years of age , it was eating well, connecting and loving their neighbours and not buying into modern ways of living that have become so counter to our identity our human connections and health.

What are the differences between halloumi and hellim?

The real question is what is the difference between rizokarpatiko, pissouritiko and Akanthotiko or Lysitoko, Lemetiani and anogyratiko Halloumi . Often the question was if it was singular or dipla (folded) , or horitiko (matured in the village) halloumi and hellim is just a collective trademark another corporatisation of food and culture, the real meaning comes from the farming and people who produce it , differentiated by the people in each village and how they expressed their food. Mixed communities with Ottoman and Byzantine influence made the same style of food per village to the degree ramadan and easter food almost identically coincides with the same expressions of fasting and celebration. Sometimes the village was more ottoman dominant sometimes more Byzantine dominant and sometimes they were hermetically separate but at times interfaced at markets so language was shared and used by all communities but they all made the same version in that village purely due to how the milk was collected , like mini cooperatives.

Cyprus is one island with one soul shared by many cultures over the ages, for me it’ was one of the greatest examples of multicultural society that got savvaged by globalisation, neoliberalism and hyper consumerism trying to box people into the nomenclature decided by institutions.

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