New York.- By Vicki J. Yiannias
The wines, cheeses, and other products, like salt, spices, and honey that were exhibited at the Cyprus Pavilion in the International Fancy Food Summer Show 2007 at the Javits Center on July 8-10 are currently being promoted by Cyprus for country branding. Refined through the centuries, Cypriot expertise in food production has reached a level of perfection that pleases the most discriminating modern palates.
Mr. Aristos Constantine, Trade Commissioner of the Republic of Cyprus, explained to The Greek News that the Cyprus Pavilion was intentionally limited in size. “Although our participation grows each year and will continue to do so in the future, we donʼt have a broad variety of products on display. Thereʼs a good reason for that. Itʼs not because the products arenʼt fantastic or that there isnʼt interest in the US market; itʼs that coming to exhibitions entails huge expense. AS well, Cyprus is a small country with a limited amount of production, so the products that you bring obviously have to be the ones that you know have the capacity to service demands and be competitive price-wise.”
He noted that Cyprus has excellent olive oil and olives, cheeses, and other products, however, up to now the availability of Cypriot products has been limited n the US because it has been easier and more cost-effective for Cypriot manufacturers to focus on European markets because shipping costs to Europe are lower and Cyprus and its products are already well known there.
“Halloumi, for example, already has brand recognition in the U.S.,” said Constantine, “whereas coming into a market as large and competitive as the US market with other products can be difficult; it takes time, effort, and investment…and, you know, youʼre building country recognition. Halloumi has become well-known and well-loved in the US; itʼs in the mass market, and has a phenomenal following, so itʼs easy to carry in other products from dairy-producing interests with it, such as kefalograviera, feta and the other cheeses, and yogurts.”
Moving on to the cheeses, Constantine focused on Halloumi® (which has trademark protection in the U.S., much like Roquefort), a traditional semi-hard cheese produced on Cyprus for centuries and unique to the island.
“Cyprusʼs Mediterranean climate, soil composition and unique grasses provide some of the worldʼs best grazing pastureland for sheep and goats. For centuries shepherds in Cyprus have turned their milk into some of Europeʼs most delicious cheeses,” said Constantine.
Mr. Dennis Droushiotis, Managing Director of the Cyprus Dairy Association in North America, concurred, noting that Halloumi is produced through historical methods unique to the island of Cyprus. As did Constantine, he stressed the importance of the variety of wild natural spice and herb bushes available to the sheep and goats — such as thyme and rosemary — which “greatly enhance the flavor of the milk that produces the cheese.”
Halloumi, often referred to as the worldʼs most fascinating cheese, and available in the major US supermarkets and delicatessens, is endlessly versatile: it can be grated, diced in salads, browns without melting when itʼs grilled and sautéed, (a perfect cheese for saganaki). This tremendous versatility, Droushiotis affirms, “is the delight of the consumers and chefs.”
Mr. Droushiotis is extremely pleased with this yearʼs boom in US Halloumi sales, saying that Halloumi exports to the US have grown steadily over the past 10 years. The 31% increase in Halloumi sales in the first quarter of 2007 over the same period last year is a positive indication that The Cyprus Association for the Promotion of Milk Products is on the right track with its recently launched CheeseEU program. CheeseEU is a two-year, nationwide, tactical, trade, consumer, and direct marketing campaign.
The trade and consumer campaign with major cheese distributors and chain retailers in key metropolitan markets includes 400 in-store tastings in the US (including Los Angeles, New York, Washington D.C., and Boston), and 100 in-store tastings in Canada (including Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver). Focus is on the summer grilling season, so tastings involve warm, grilled Halloumi. The direct marketing campaign targets chefs, restaurateurs, and food press and involves promotional materials and samples. The campaign also includes participation in selected trade shows.
Four other major cheeses produced in Cyprus following traditional methods are Anari, a soft, light, creamy cheese; Kefalograviera, a hard pressed, fully-matured cheese with holes and a clean strong taste; Kashkaval (Kaseri), a fully-matured cheese with excellent body and taste; and Kefalotyri, a tangy cheese with a slightly crumbly texture, made from goat and sheepʼs milk.
This was the first show at which so many Cypriot wineries were exhibited, the majority of which are seeking US representation. There was a lot of interest in the international market and especially in the US, said Constantine, because Cyprus offers a unique alternative to whatʼs already on the market. “After all, how many Cabernets are you going to drink; how many Pinot Grigiots are you going to have…how many Chardonnays? Youʼre looking for something different, and this is why Greece and Cyprus are pushing their indigenous grapes.”
Maratheftiko, Xinisteri, Mavro, Ofthalmo, are Cyprusʼs indigenous grape varieties of Cyprus are unique to the island, “which is perhaps the oldest wine-producing country in the world, going back some 5,000 years B.C. Commandaria, the oldest wine in the world with appellation of origin, has been produced since at least 1,000 B.C,” he noted.
Having escaped the vine disease phylloxera, which fell upon the greater part of Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, the vines of Cyprus retain their classic characteristics to produce superior quality wines that express the unique character of their origin, so “they are like nothing else on the shelves right now.”
“Mellona brand honey has a special flavor because it comes from wild flower pollen and because Cyprusʼs abundant flora, wide variety of native herbs, and sunlight comprise the ideal environment for Cyprusʼs long tradition of apiculture,” said Constantine. Luscious and spreadable, the organic, unprocessed honey is a mix of rare kinds of pure bee honey enriched with natural Mediterranean herb and fruit extracts. Original, carob, grape and almond flavors have distinct colors, aromas, and nourishing properties.
The next display Constantine showed us was Bellamesa Natural Sea Salt Flakes. Bellamesaʼs delicate, light and flaky, pyramid- shaped crystals “created from the fresh clear waters of the Mediterranean with all the natural trace elements of minerals naturally found in sea salt.” First filtered, evaporated, and harvested by hand through age-old traditional processes, the flakes are blended with natural herbs and spices to create eight flavors, natural, rosemary, lemon, mixed spices, smoked, seaweed, chili pepper, and black pepper.