“Halloumi is a big part of Cypriot culture. It’s been part of our life since we’ve been little,” says Abraam Gregoriou. “You can’t describe how much it means to grow up with this humble cheese, and to now see it served in all these restaurants and cafes in Melbourne.”
Gregoriou is a member of the Cyprus Community of Melbourne and Victoria, which is behind Melbourne’s Cyprus Halloumi Festival. “A lot of Cypriots came to Australia as refugees after the 1974 war, so to see their culture and part of their identity being served on plates in Australia, it’s something they’re are immensely proud of,” says Gregoriou.
Last year, the festival attracted over 8000 attendees, far more than what was expected. Although the festival was supposed to be a one-off event, thanks to its huge success last year, organisers have decided to bring it back again this year, on 26 and 27 October.
So what can we expect? A lot of halloumi, of course.
There will be plenty of samples to try, straight from Cyprus. Halloumi dishes like pies and pasta, as well as other Cypriot foods like souvlaki, loukoumades and koupes (similar to kibbeh), will also be available for purchase from the Kantina Kitchen.
Halloumi is eaten in many different ways. It’s often served fresh, fried or grilled as a mezze (starter) or side dish, as well as cooked in pastry or dried and grated on top of pasta. The semi-hard cheese is traditionally made with a mix of goat and sheep’s milk and at the festival, you'll find seasoned home cooks demonstrating how to make haloumi, which can be a lengthy process.
“You shouldn’t miss the cooking demonstration. What you’ll see there is an art form that has been around for centuries. It’s something you can learn, but you won’t be an expert right away. Making halloumi will give you an insight into our culture,” Gregoriou tells SBS.
“Halloumi is a big part of Cypriot culture. It’s been part of our life since we’ve been little."
Last year, Cyprus exported 29 000 tonnes of halloumi. With this squeaky favourite proving to be in such high demand, goat and sheep (milk) farmers have been struggling to meet supply and have started using cow’s milk, which is more widely available. “It gives a slightly different flavour, but both are fantastic,” explains Gregoriou.
To satisfy all your halloumi fantasies at this year's festival, you’ll need to purchase your ticket online. It will give you access to the samples and enter you in the draw to win two return flights to Cyprus or Greece. All proceeds from the festival will go towards the Cyprus Community of Melbourne and Victoria.
26 – 27 October 12 – 9 pm
495 – 511 Lygon Street, Brunswick East
Ajvar is a Slavic roasted red capsicum (bell pepper) relish. It is super versatile and pairs brilliantly with any number of dishes including meat, fish and pasta. It also makes a great dip and is often spread in sandwiches.