Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Cyprus Day Three: Touring The Food Distributors

A Time For Cheese----Helloumi Cheese That Is!
Stelios picked me up at 8:30 am the following morning and we were off but not to a winery. Today it was to visit several dairy producers, a produce exporter and a dried fruit/nuts exporter.
Our first visit was to Charalambides Christis Ltd. Where we met Elena Charalambous, Research and Development Manager and Mr. Giannis Billis, Plant Manager.
Charalambides was first initiated in 1945 by Takis Charalambides which through the years went through several incarnations before joining with Dairy Kristis (Christis) which was founded in 1961. The present company produces a large variety of products ranging from milk, coffee products,juices, yogurt and cheese. It has formed several important partnerships with other companies such as that with La Delia Foods Ltd. in distributing their famous Lamprianidi sausages. The company exhibits much social conscience through its associated partnerships for research with Cyprus University in producing more nutritious products. It also supports athletics and sponsors various athletic competitions, as we as "Participation" and educational programs. One interesting factor is the company's involvement with "Project Dairius" which is a pilot project aimed at the processing and eventual recycling of dairy products for a safer environment. In addition to this, there is even a partnership in the production of the "McHellumi Breakfast Muffin" with, you guessed it, McDonald's. Both calorie conscious an delicious it would be a nice treat here in North America. As you can see Charalambides-Christies is a unique company that makes a fine array of products.                
After a brief meeting were we were given an overview of the dairy business, we proceeded with a tour of the dairy plant. The company is very particular against any type of infection from the outside so gowns and caps (even my bald head) had to be covered and we had to step into a disinfection solution even though we were given shoe covers to wear.
We saw the milk production as well as the production of a number of products but the most interesting was the production of the Halloumi Cheese.
It's Been A Halloumi Of A Day
The process of making Halloumi is multi faceted. Traditional Halloumi is made from either goat, or sheep's milk or a blend of the two. However cow's milk is also being used in its making. The cheese is white and somewhat salty to the taste. Charalambides-Christies makes a number of styles of this cheese which can be grilled over a stove or griller since it has a high melting temperature. The result is an absolutely delicious dish.    
The traditional method that has been passed through generations begins with the collection and heating of milk in a large cauldron. Unpasteurized milk is sieved into the cauldron using cheesecloth or other filtration  in order to clean any impurities. It is then heated to about 32-35°C. Rennet is added to start the curdling process and after about half an hour, the milk begins to turn into soft cheese/ soft curds. The curds are then cut to small pieces (depending on the preferred size of halloumi) and are placed either in specially woven basket moulds or wrapped in large cheese cloths where they are mechanically pressed to drain the excess whey and this is followed by the re-cooking of halloumi in the whey so as to give the appropriate firm texture.
The temperature is then raised to 900C and the halloumi pieces are heated up for approximately 30 minutes until they get a fine texture. The cheese takes on an additional texture and taste.
Salt is sprinkled atop as is dry mint. Halloumi is formed and cut either into bell shaped forms or squares. It is cooled and is ready for eating. Halloumi may also be left to mature into a hard texture if kept in salt water for a month or so and could be stored for up to a year without refrigeration.
 Delicious To The Last Bite!
Grilled Halloumi is a true experience. It can be eaten in a number of ways. Raw is good but grilled or fried is better. The cheese does not melt and takes on a crispy brown colour and has a "squeaky clean" texture on the palate that is delicious as a side dish with salads, pasta, ravioli,watermelon, fruit, bread, pita or it can be quite good with honey since the saltiness of the cheese interacts well  with the sweetness of the honey OR try it with the oldest wine brand in the World, Commandaria. This sweet dessert wine is a perfect match with the cheese and the cheese/wine pairing is taken to new heights.  It is a unique cheese with a history as old as any culinary product in the Middle East.
Our visit with Charalambides-Christis was indeed a very interesting one and I couldn't help but smile every time I went passed a McDonald's sign and saw the McHallumi Breakfast (their spelling) billboard on the road.
Lefkonitziatis Dairy Products Ltd.
Lefkonitziatis Dairy was founded back in 1960 and processes milk and produces a series of traditional dairy products. Halloumi and Yoghurt are the main products the company manufactures today.  It relocated to the Ayios Athanasios industrial area within the City of Limassol in 1997. Limassol.We met with Mr. Antonis Botsaris and discussed the products that were made at the dairy and shared some nice Halloumi during the meeting. 
Aside from milk, Lefkonitziatis products include both folded and non folded Halloumi, Yoghurt, Feta Cheese, Anari, Regular Cheese and Kefir.
Anari referred to above is a cheese that is made from the whey obtained from either the making of Halloumi or Kefalotyri cheese.
The whey is heated to about 65-70 degrees Centigrade and either goat or sheep milk added. The temperature is raised to the Boiling Point. Curds form as the heating takes place and are skimmed off the top and placed in a drainage cauldron. The product which tastes like ricotta cheese is mild and can be eaten after it is made. Sometimes the Anari is allowed to mature and dry for a long lasting hard cheese. Salt is usually added for flavour.
The hard, dry Anari is used similar to grated Parmigian cheese over pasta etc. The soft can be used for soups, pastries (Pourekia) both sweet and savory, cheese cake and cheese filling.    
Kefir is a cheese made from the addition of a yeast/bacterial mixture called "Kefir" to ferment sheep or goats milk used in the making of the above cheese. A fermented drink the same name also exists.
The liquid is either "cold strained" or heated to allow the curds and whey to separate. The curds are allowed to set and then stained again. The resulting cheese is very tasty and similar to a brie cheese.
All the above cheeses and products are highly nutritious and healthful.  
The visit to these dairy establishments was quite interesting. Alas here is where Stelios and I had to part ways as another guide--Marios was taking over for the day. I gave my adieu to Stel but as it would become apparent in the next few blogs, Stel and I have remained in touch in a great friendship.
Onward To Nicosia  
Marios proved to be a quiet but very apt travelling partner. The first place we went to was Alion Vegetable and Fruits Co. Ltd. Where Theodoros Zavos gave us a tour. I immediately liked Theodoros who was a passionate yet very hospitable host. He made me laugh when he found out our similar passion for good scotch. "Let's have some now or do you want to wait until after the tour?" were his first words.
Tour was conducted through a state-of-the-art facility for first rate produce preparation, packaging and shipping of vegetables and herbs to over 25 countries. The company was established in 1990 as a packing and exporting company of fresh fruit and vegetables. In 2008 the new contemporary packing facility in Pera Chorio Nisou, Cyprus was opened.  The new space offers a much more comfortable area to select, pack, store and preserve vegetables and fresh herbs. 
Theodoros's enthusiasm was infections as we went from one packaging area to another. The packaging was exceptionally well done with a good view of each vegetable and herb in a very well protected package of cellophane and carton. 
As we were on our way through the premises, Theodoros pointed to a door leading into a room. "This" he said, "is the most important room of the whole company. It is where all the great ideas are born!" We walked into the kitchen and before one could say "Scotch" out it came!
Shortly there after and after much prodding from Marios (who was taking on a strong appearance to Tibor, "Two in a Vineyard's"  former guide in Austria) I hesitatingly pulled my self away from the scotch and to the car for our lunch meeting with Aliki Iordanou of the same ministry as Stel and Marios. 
We went into downtown Nicosia to a restaurant called EYOCHIA which is part of the "More" restaurant chain. Place was welcoming and very well arranged. 
Here we had traditional Cypriot dishes and deserts such as lamb, chicken and well prepared grilled vegetables. The serving table was full of Mediterranean dishes as well as international fare. The style was buffet and the wine a Maratheftiko/Syrah blend was excellent though I also enjoyed what they called "Super Coffee".  which is made of the finest Arabica and Robusta beans and leaves a huge sediment in the cup. But strong------well let's say it makes the hair of you chest curl a bit. Great stuff for a coffee addict such as I!   
Aliki Iordanou was a stunningly lovely woman who held a very responsible position in the Ministry. We all enjoyed our buffet of fine Cypriot fare and ended it with some superb deserts such as Mahalepi which is a white creamy dessert that is made from corn starch, milk or cream, gelatin, sugar and almonds. Served cold and it is delicious. Another dessert called "siousioukkos". It is from boiled grape juice batter (paluze) and made with  nuts threaded on a string and cooled/drained after being dipped in the batter. Another dessert was fruit such as pears and peaches immersed in rose water. All healthy and excellent to the taste.
After my usual five or six cups of coffee Aliki and I said good bye and Marios drove us to our last tour of the day------E. Neophytou Trading Ltd. owner of the Serano Brand of dried fruit and nuts.
We met Mr. Giannos Neophytou at his office where we were welcomed openly by this very pleasant man. He introduced us to his family who worked with him as well as many of his employees.
This company's organization and in-house laboratory allows it leverage in various areas such as : product design, research and development, manufacturing, packaging, environmentally controlled warehousing, sales and service. 
Established in 1974, it supplies many countries with dried fruit, nuts and trail mixes to many countries and a huge diversity of products.
The day ended with the owner giving me a selection of his products to bring back with me to Canada.Then it was back to Limassol and back to the Mediterranean Beach Hotel.
End of day three.