Food and wine in Cyprus – getting creative with Halloumi and Tomato marmelade with Xynisteri

A recent visit to Nicosia and dinner with friends at a favourite restaurant introduces us to a different way of serving halloumi cheese, which I really like and want to try making myself.      Attempting to replicate interesting dishes is a favourite kitchen pastime!!

Halloumi is a particular Cypriot cheese made from sheep and goat milk.  It has been produced by Cypriots for many centuries and is an important part of Cypriot culture and diet.   It is semi-hard with a rubbery texture and a distinct salty flavour.  It is a popular choice  for many dishes as an alternative to traditional cheese due to its high melting point.   As mentioned, it’s quite salty and usually served fried with slices of lemon.  Delicious in its own way, I am ready to try a different style of serving halloumi.

I buy fresh halloumi from a farmer in the Paphos fruit and vegetable market and am always happy with her cheese.

The Nicosian restaurant, Beba, serves halloumi in a different way:  halloumi baked on a tomate base.   The server told me the base was tomato marmelade;  tomatoes with various ingredients reduced to a marmelade consistency.

Part of the fun of my kitchen pastime is searching the internet for suitable, approximate recipes that I play with a bit, depending on the situation.   In this way,  I found a tomato marmelade recipe that I modified, particularly by reducing the sugar and replacing that ingredient with stevia.

Together with the tomatoes, the following ingredients of olive oil, onion, garlic, sweet red peppers, ground cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, balsamic vinegar all find their way into the pot.   During the one hour simmering phase, I add some water so it doesn’t get too think.   After cooling, this is puréed into a smooth marmelade consistency rather than a ‘chunky’ marmelade.

To replicate the baked halloumi dish we had enjoyed, I spread tomato marmelade onto a glass cooking plate and add the halloumi on top, sliced horizontally rather than the typical vertical slices.

 

This goes into a hot oven for 20 minutes and is served with a salad of lettuce and cucumbers.  Because of the high melting point of halloumi, it retains its shape and softens rather than melting.

Choosing an appropriate wine is part of the pleasure and definitely choosing a Cypriot wine is important to me for this quintessentially Cypriot dish.   Given the saltiness of the halloumi cheese, and following typical wine pairing convention,  a wine with some acidity seems right and so we open a chilled bottle of Xynisteri, a white wine from Andreas Tsalapatis, a wine maker in Polemi, a village in the hills about 30 minutes from Paphos.  It is a successful match with enough acidity to balance the saltiness in the halloumi but soft at the same time with flavours of citrus and stone fruit and a whisper  of nuttiness at the end.

Xynisteri is the main indigenous white-wine variety of Cyprus.  It is used to make light, refreshing white wines.   Xynisteri wine is typically produced as a single varietal wine and for sake of comparison is similar to  Sauvignon Blanc.

Applause at the dinner table is music to my ears as we enjoy the results of this kitchen experiment, inspired by the restaurant Beba in Nicosia.

References:    Tomato Marmelade  – myrecipes.com as inspiration
Wine:  Tsalapatis Winery, Rigena 100% 12.5 VOL Xynisteri

Inspired by Restaurant:                       Beba Restaurant,   ΜΠΕΜΠΑ, Nicosia

 

 

 

 

 

Learning about local Cyprus wines: Paphos Region wine event: 1st Wine & Zivania Exhibition

Nothing beats a local wine event for authenticity, comraderie and learning opportunities.

With good fortune, a friend told us about such an event in Koili, a village in the hills above Paphos, Cyprus, organized by the Koili Regional Educational Centre for Rural Professionals.

This centre in itself is an important initiative in support of the agricultural and viticultural nature of the area and the development and leverage of skills in the related workforce.

Once away from the increasing urbanization surrounding the towns, Cyprus is largely an agrarian community in which viticulture and wine making plays an important role.  Agrotourism is an important sector focussed on agricultural products, vineyards and the production of Zivania, a strong Cypriot spirit.

This particular event in Koili is the First Wine and Zivania Exhibition and it is held in the impressive and purpose built large hall of the educational centre.

When we arrive the winemakers are arranging their wine bottles and displays and the DJ is playing music, all to build the lively atmosphere for the event.

First things first, I go in search of wine glasses, which are nicely stamped with the name of the event, and I am given  a small pot of a traditional “amuse-bouche” for each person in our party.   This is like a rose water sorbet / mousse consistency and I believe it is known as Mahalebi, usually served as a summer dessert.

Visitors have the opportunity to taste wine and Zivania from wineries in the wider area, while they are informed about the correct way of serving wine and the indigenous grape varieties of Cyprus, one of my areas of interest

In her greeting, the Governor of Paphos states that the wine sector is considered as an important pillar of development that can lead to the full recovery of the wider agricultural sector.  The consistent quality of the wine produced in the Paphos District is also commented on as well as the production of Zivania..   

I have to admit that I am not familiar with Zivania and it’s interesting to me that it is highlighted in the event.   However, when I think about this, it makes sense, especially as we are informed that Zivania has been protected within the framework of EU Regulations as a unique product of Cyprus.

After visiting various wine displays, the main event starts.  This is about the right way to serve wine.

This is innovative and well done as instead of a lecture, there is a ‘show and tell’ demonstration of decanting a bottle of red wine and then pouring a tasting quantity in appropriate glasses for a couple of attendees seated at a properly laid table, as though in a restaurant!  and once the individuals taste the wine and indicate their approval, their glasses are refilled.   The Viticulturist/Oenologist, Dr Andrea Emmanuel talks us through the demonstration.

Following this, we visit more winemaker displays and I discover some indigenous varieties I am not aware of, discover a white wine at 10.5% ALC Vol and a winery producing small bottles of wine – all topics I am interested in!

More to come in my next blog post…

References:  Koili Regional Educational Centre for Rural Professionals

Cyprus-digest.com