Traditional halloumi is made of goat and sheep milk, however, often the product that gets to the supermarket shelves generally has a large proportion of cheaper and more widely available cow’s milk.
But if the pending Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) application to regulate the production of halloumi cheese is granted, such products will be blocked from the market.
Halloumi accounts for more than 15% of Cyprus’ total domestic exports, with the UK the top market for the product.
Genetic improvement needed
The specifications from the pending PDO application stipulate that halloumi must be produced predominantly from Cypriot sheep and goat milk, which means that milk production from local Cypriot sheep and goat breeds will need to increase substantially to ensure the current demand for halloumi cheese is satisfied.
The most efficient way to achieve this is through genetic improvement of the local goat and sheep breeds and by increasing the quality and production of local animal feed.
The AGRICYGEN partnership has four Cypriot partners, the Agricultural Research Institute (ARI; coordinator); The Cyprus Institute (CYI); The Cyprus Institute of Neurology and Genetics; and RTD Talos Limited.
European partners are the University of Edinburgh (The Roslin Institute, The Global Academy for Food Security and Agriculture) in the UK; the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (Toulouse, Dijon, France); and the Leibniz - Institut für Pflanzengenetik und Kultirplanzenforschung in Germany.
Recently, AGRICYGEN researchers from Cyprus visited colleagues at the the Roslin Institute in Scotland.
"Our expertise in genetics and genomics combined with those in plant and microbial genetics from our colleagues, will allow the implementation of an effective genomic scheme for sustainable genetic improvement, taking into account the unique conditions of the Cypriot sheep and goat systems," said Dr Ricardo Pong-Wong, quantitative genetic tools specialist at The Roslin Institute.
The project is funded by the European Union through the WIDESPREAD program, which aims to establish a center of excellence to support livestock and feed production in Cyprus by enhancing research capacity in the area of genetics and genomics.
Phase I of the project started on September 1, with the objective to write a thorough business plan for the centre of excellence to implement a genomic selection scheme to improve milk production in local sheep and goats.