The Mediterranean island that gave birth to mythology’s most beautiful woman is equally famous for its delightful cuisine, with one staple delicacy having gained more fame than Aphrodite herself over recent years.
Halloumi has always been a favourite in that South Eastern part of Europe, however, the turn towards a healthier lifestyle has seen it take a prominent spot in most modern cuisines due to its unique characteristics.
“When it comes to cheese, Halloumi is quite a star,” says Stelios Angelodemou, president of the Cyprus Community of Melbourne and Victoria.
“It is a great cheese, so tasty, and the only cheese you can place on top of a flame that won’t burn or melt; this makes it special,” he stresses adding that he was impressed to see Halloumi on almost every eatery’s menu in Melbourne; “even at McDonald’s and Nando’s and Burger King. I see Halloumi in every restaurant. People love it.”
That love is what made him come up with the idea of a Halloumi Festival in Melbourne, the first of its kind in Australia set to take place on the weekend of 17 and 18 November at the Cypriot Community’s headquarters.
“It’s super popular in Melbourne and overseas. The first thing that would strike on the menu being Cypriot is seeing Halloumi on every menu in some form. That’s how I started thinking that such an event would be a success,” Mr Angelodemou explains.
“I’d shared this idea with my friends, fellow producers in Cyprus and the Government and we thought it would be good to establish such an event in Melbourne.”
For a few years he had been planning to create a dedicated festival that would showcase the most popular cheese used by restaurants today but rather than just serve treats that feature the tastiest squeaky cheese or different flavours and textures, Angelodemou wanted audiences to comprehend the process of its making.
“Understanding how produce is made somehow gives you a better appreciation for it,” he says.
“We would be honoured if you could attend the Halloumi Festival and let us share with you what we know best about this exceptional white cheese.”
The highlight of the Halloumi Festival, explains Angelodemou, besides all the variety of wines, refreshments and traditional food plates that will be available to buy from the Community’s canteen and veranda corners will be a display of making the cheese stage by stage, the same way it has been done for centuries.
“It is something special to see as the secret of cheese making was transferred from generation to generation and predominantly made by women,” he says.
The Halloumi-making will take place during different sessions on both days of the festival and the demonstration will be carried out by six women, all experienced producers based in Melbourne.
“These lovely ladies will be dressed in the traditional Cypriot attire and will carry the milk into the main event space where we will show guests live how our cheese is made!” he enthuses.
“These ladies make Halloumi from local produce on a daily basis; they sell [it] at markets, and distribute to restaurants and are ready to give two Halloumi making demonstrations each day of the weekend, covering everything from the milk to the preparation and the manufacture, and then we will distribute it to the audiences for a tasting!”
Attending will also be several representatives of the Halloumi Association from Cyprus, who will promote their own Halloumi products at the festival sharing its unique stories and tradition with the aim to make it known even further.
Even though having the opportunity to witness and learn how this much loved cheese is actually made from scratch is an unmissable experience, the festival’s ‘kerasma’ is also enticing.
“At the venue will be offering guests handmade delights, [there] will be a tasting plate of cheese, a glass of wine and a recipe book with different Halloumi dishes.
“A variety of food plates will be available,” Mr Angelodemou says clarifying that no restaurants will be demonstrating at the festival.
“All the stalls belong to producers who are members of the Cypriot Community; the products are available and promoted through the Community and no external producers or restaurateurs will take part.”
Even the cooking will be done exclusively by members of the Cypriot Community who have both the experience and much love for the culinary art.
“People will be able to taste traditional foods that are based on Halloumi, such as the ravioles or the flaounes. We will have Halloumi salad, Halloumi sticks, koupes and many, many more delicious things.
“It will make us more than happy to see Hellenes from different backgrounds in Melbourne attend our festival and share our experience in Halloumi making,” says Angelodemou who is excited with the engagement the event has been receiving on social media thus far.
The president of the Cypriot Community hopes that there will be an even flow of people throughout the weekend as up to the point of this interview, aside from the invitations that have been sent out and RSVPs, the event had 650,000 unique visits on the Community’s Facebook page during the last seven days alone with thousands of people saying they are attending.
“To receive enough support to keep this festival going in the years to come as an annual or biannual event is our goal,” he says.
“There is great value in such a happening; it’s festivals like this that help preserve our ethnic and cultural identity, and bring together the entire family. We would love to see as many people as possible attend.”
When: Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 November
Where: 495-497 Lygon Street, Brunswick East, VIC
All welcome. Entrance Fee: $10 full, $5 concession.