Just as Champagne can only be made in the Champagne region of France, halloumi cheese can only be made in Cyprus with Cypriot sheep and goat milk. This is because halloumi is a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) product. But Cyprus’s economy has been ravaged, and the demand for halloumi is on the rise—a perfect storm which has created a halloumi shortage.

Esquire caught John Pittas, president of Pittas, the largest supplier of halloumi, working at 7:30 pm in his Cyprus offices.

“When we started some years ago, we sold to the ethnic market,” says Pittas, “All of a sudden, we had a program promoting it, in 2007-2010, that made the product very well known, and the main market now is not ethnic, it’s the mainstream.” 

Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods customers can’t get enough of the cheese. One Austin Whole Foods employee says, “”It’s a very popular item, and there’s nothing else exactly like it. People ask for it all the time, so I hope they can do something.”

Why, exactly, can’t the good men and women of Cyprus produce enough cheese? The farmers of Cyprus can only produce milk for about half of the year, and depend on agricultural banks for loans to help get them through the other half. “Many of these banks have closed in the global economic crises of the past few years, or have scaled way back on what they can offer in terms of financing,” Esquire reports.

“The Cyprus economy has been hit very bad, financing doesn’t exist, so many don’t have sufficient capital to buy the milk,” Costas Mastoras—owner of Titan Foods in Astoria, Queens—tells Esquire. Pittas says, “Because the banking system here more or less collapsed, some couldn’t support the farms and closed them down.”

But now that Cyprus’ banking system is slowly getting better, Pittas is confident that next year will see an increased Halloumi supply. But right now, the Halloumi crisis means you should expect a ten-to-twelve percent price increase. Ouch.

[via Esquire]