30 June 2007

Say farewell to Lebanese halloum

"The (Cypriot) Agriculture Ministry said yesterday they were progressing as scheduled with their application to the European Union to register halloumi cheese under the Protected Designation of Origin scheme.

Once received by the EU, a further six-month period must elapse, when other countries have the right to appeal.

A major issue in registering halloumi under the PDO term has been an ongoing row over what percentage of each type of milk (cow, sheep and goat) should be used in the product. Since countries like Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria and Denmark are now producing cheese with the indication ‘halloumi’, this has for a long time been a pressing issue for the industry.

The EU last week decided to cut subsidies on the export of dairy products to non-EU countries.

The EU Committee on Dairy Products decided to adopt the proposal in order to combat the lack of milk production.When subsidies were in place, the government would receive 22.57 euros for every 100 kilos exported to non-EU countries.

The decision has come with halloumi exports on the rise in the Middle East, especially in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE.

It’s also been said that Turkish Cypriot and Turkish halloumia are becoming increasingly popular in the market, as they are being subsidised by the Turkish government, meaning they are retailing for lower prices.

PROTECTED Designation of Origin covers the term used to describe foodstuffs which are produced, processed and prepared in a given geographical area using recognised know-how.

It is designed to protect the names of regional foods and ensures that only products genuinely originating in that region are allowed in commerce as such. Its purpose is to protect the reputation of regional foods and eliminate the unfair competition and misleading of consumers by non-genuine products, which may be of inferior quality or of different flavour.

Products include the names of wines, cheeses, hams, sausages, olives, beers, and even regional breads, fruits, and vegetables.So, how do producers and processors go about registering a product name? A group of producers must define the product according to precise specifications.

The application, including the specifications, must be sent to the relevant national authority, where it will be studied first and thereafter transmitted to the European Commission. Here the application will undergo a number of control procedures. If it meets the requirements, a first publication in the Official Journal of the European Communities will inform those in the Union who are interested. If there are no objections, the European Commission publishes the protected product name in the Journal."

A small note: If Cyprus obtains the PDO for Halloumi, then the Lebanese dairy manufacturers will still be able to make Halloum, but not to call it Halloum. The same thing happenned with Greece and Feta. Feta-type cheese is still made in Denmark and elsewhere, but it cannot be sold as Feta anymore. Meanwhile in Lebanon, the PDO project funded by the Swiss government (and in which I am a consultant) is trying to survive in spite of the political deadlock, and the PDO law is still waiting to be passed.

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.