A Cypriot woman prepares halloumi, a traditional cheese that the European Union has designated a product of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) / © AFP/File
Cyprus on Tuesday hailed a European Union decision to recognise halloumi cheese as a product distinct to the divided eastern Mediterranean island after a seven-year wait.
Known as halloumi in Greek and hellim in Turkish, the famously barbecue-able cheese is the island's biggest export, earning a record 250 million euros ($290 million) last year.
The European Union on Monday registered halloumi as a product of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) -- a coveted status that guarantees a product's origin and uniqueness.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades welcomed the move, calling it "a milestone day for halloumi/hellim and our country".
"A shield of protection is now in place," the leader of the island's mainly Greek-speaking south tweeted on Tuesday.
Cyprus has been divided since Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third in 1974 in reaction to a Greek-engineered coup aiming to annex the island.
"Significant prospects for increasing exports of our national product, to the benefit of all Cypriot producers, Greek and Turkish," Anastasiades added.
But the decision, which defines the content of the cheese as 51 percent goat or sheep's milk, making it more expensive, has left some unhappy.
"This is very bad for north and south producers," Turkish Cypriot hellim factory owner Mahmut Erden told AFP.
- 'Shared heritage' -
Britain is the squeaky cheese's biggest market, absorbing around 40 percent of export sales.
Cyprus filed a PDO application to the European Commission in July 2014 for the cheese.
The application covers producers across the whole island, including both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots.
Agriculture Minister Costas Kadis said the EU decision protects halloumi against imitators as Cyprus fights legal trademark battles against producers in other countries.
Halloumi was expected to be formally designated a PDO product for Cyprus in mid-April, European Commission spokesperson Miriam Garcia Ferrer was quoted as saying by the Cyprus News Agency.
"Following the positive votes of member states, the adoption procedure of the legal text can be launched," she said.
In 2015, then European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said "halloumi/hellim cheese symbolises the shared heritage of the island of Cyprus".
"It is a tradition which has linked the communities living here for centuries," he said.