Gifts from Aphrodite’s isle at the Cypriot Food and Wine Festival

The Cypriot Culture, Food and Wine Festival 2009 this coming weekend will provide a showcase of modern and traditional, of nostalgia and pride, and of cultural identity inexorably linked with the island of Dionysus and Aphrodite.
The Festival is the Cypriot Community’s annual event to promote the culture of the island that gave birth to the goddess of beauty. The premises of the Cypriot Community of Melbourne and Victoria (CCMV) will be a hub of activities this weekend (March 7 and 8) where wine tasting and traditional Cypriot food will be coupled with music and theatre performances, visual arts displays and cooking shows.
Traditional Cypriot food will be available and dancing, singing and drama will be in the spotlight. Singer-songwriter Koulis Theodorou and composer Savvas Savva are coming from Cyprus specifically for the Wine Festival accompanied by a group of musicians and singers. Local playwrights will show their recent work, DJs will be entertaining the crowds and there will be dancing-a-plenty for all ages.
Local dance groups will perform traditional Greek dances while the Cypriot Community’s Dance Group, with its youthful exuberance and infectious enthusiasm, is expected to be one of the main attractions on Saturday.
The Festival will hold two separate exhibitions of photography and traditional items of everyday life. Rural life will be the theme of the exhibitions to highlight the Cypriots’ connection with their land and give glimpses to the island’s huge cultural heritage. Paint-as-you-go has become a staple of the last few years and local artist Marios Christou will be creating a painting during the two day Festival.
Foodies visiting the Festival are in for a treat. Cooking demonstrations featuring a combination of modern and traditional Cypriot foods have been organised for both days. Former restaurateur and TV chef Jim Tsindos will be cooking up a storm of modern dishes with a Cypriot flavour at lunchtime on Sunday. The demonstration will include a dessert of poached peach with yogurt, honey and pomegranate. George Calombaris will also make an appearance at the Festival. Cheese aficionados will be able to unlock the secrets of making haloumi on Saturday’s cooking demonstration. Haloumi, one of the products Cyprus is famous for, is a soft, slightly salty, white cheese with a subtle creamy taste and the right degree of “chewability” and springiness. Although widely available in super markets, seeking out the “real thing” is well worth it.
“Drink wine, it gives you life” in the dialect of the island has been the Festival’s catch phrase for the past 13 years. Grape growing and wine making has been an integral part of Cypriot life since time immemorial. The island is famous for its sweet wine Commandaria which dates back to the First Crusades. The knights of the Order of St John after fleeing Jerusalem in the late 1200s sought refuge in Cyprus. They built a castle in Kollosio, 11km west of Lemesos, which became their military command centre, Grande Commanderie hence, Commandaria. Most of the wine-producing regions of Cyprus are situated in the south and south west areas of the island and therefore its wine-making capacity remained unaffected by the 1974 invasion.
The last 20 years has seen efforts to modernise the wine industry intensify and its main focus become the development of the local grape varieties.
The Cypriot Culture, Food and Wine Festival gives the opportunity to sample Cypriot wines. Mataro (similar to Mourverde), Cabernet Sauvignon and other dry red wines will be featuring next to semi-sweet and sweet red varieties. White wines will be represented mostly through the popular Chardonnay. Most of the wines available for tasting are based on international varieties, but Greek wine connoisseurs are looking forward to tasting some domestic Cypriot varieties like Maratheftiko, Lefkada, Spourtiko and Xinisteri (the basic variety in the production of Commadaria).
In recent years, some Cypriot wines have excelled in international competitions and won positive reviews in influential wine magazines. With the exception of Commandaria, adventurous wine drinkers will have serious difficulties in finding Cypriot wines in the Australian market. Events like the Wine Festival offer an excellent vehicle in introducing domestic Cypriot wines to Australian consumers. 
The local market has developed a sophisticated taste around wine, seeking new and exotic flavours, evident in an increase of imported wines in the recent years.
The Mayor of Lemesos, Andreas Christou, will be the guest of honour. Lemesos, on Akrotiri Bay on the southern coast of the island, hosts a renowned Wine Festival. It’s an annual event which attracts thousands of tourists in August and September. Also this year’s Festival coincides with the Cypriot Foreign Minister’s visit to Australia, Marcos Kyprianou.
Activities start at 2pm on Saturday with the official opening at 5pm. Sunday starts at 12pm and will continue until night. The $5 entry fee includes wine tastings.