The Covid pandemic has lumbered the Mediterranean island of Cyprus with a six-million-kilogram stockpile of its prized white halloumi cheese, after demand was crushed at home and abroad.
Commerce Minister Natasa Pilides told the House of Representatives on Tuesday that producers had more than 6,000 tonnes of the cheese in deep storage.
Demand has crumbled over the past year owing to lockdowns across Europe to combat Covid-19, which shut down the hospitality sector and also hobbled tourism on the island.
The Cypriot government is using its embassies abroad to help shift the backlog of halloumi, the island's biggest and most recognisable export, to other markets, Ms Pilides said.
“Through the foreign ministry, we have contacted all the embassies to help dispose of stocks through bilateral arrangements,” she said.
In April, the EU registered halloumi as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) after a seven-year campaign.
Although cheesemakers say exports are picking up, they are selling fresh products because if they unload old stock to regular clients, prices would slump.
“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 representative Andreas Andreou said.
In any case, halloumi stocks produced before October 1 cannot carry the EU's PDO label, which is why authorities are seeking markets outside the bloc.
The distinctive salty cheese, which can be eaten fresh or barbecued, brought in a record €260 million ($290m) in 2020, with exports of 40,000 tonnes.
That was a huge jump from 2013 when halloumi exports generated less than €76m.
Despite the pandemic, securing the PDO registration is expected to boost halloumi exports in the longer term.
Britain is the cheese's biggest market, absorbing about 50 per cent of export sales, with Sweden its second biggest importer.
Cyprus filed a PDO application to the European Commission in July 2014 for the cheese, which is made from sheep and goat's milk.