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Things you must taste in Cyprus!

Commandaria, the Oldest Named Wine in the World



Cyprus is home to the oldest named wine still in production, a sweet dessert wine named Commandaria. It is a protected Cypriot product with a controlled appellation of origin.

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You can find Commandaria at any supermarket and some traditional restaurants also serve it after dinner as a digestive. It matches very well with nuts, dried fruit, dates, mature cheeses (including aged halloumi) and some types of dark chocolate.

Commandaria is amber in color and very sweet, with a flavor that reminds one of raisins, caramel and dried fruits. These flavors originate from the distinctive wine-making process that involves sun-drying the grapes before pressing and fermenting, yielding these smoky caramelized tones. This process is a documented ancient wine-making style that dates back to 800 BCE, making Commandaria the oldest named wine still in production.

Commandaria is usually fortified to reach an alcoholic content of up to 20%, even though many times its alcoholic content is already at 15% after fermentation and aging. Even though it is not required to fortify the wine, this practice has been adopted in the commercial production of Commandaria as it halts the fermentation process and stabilizes the wine. This fact, along with the bell-shaped bottle used for Commandaria, have contributed to the misconception that Commandaria is a liqueur.

All four major wine producers in Cyprus mass produce their own brand of Commandaria, but it is also produced by local wine producers in the 14 villages on the foothills of the Troodos mountains that constitute the designated Commandaria appellation of origin zone.

Commandaria is a wine that has been enjoyed for millennia, by crusaders, knights and kings. Richard the Lionheart is said to have served it at his wedding in Cyprus and referred to it as "the wine of kings and the king of wines", while it is believed that Commandaria won the first ever wine tasting competition.

So, if you want to taste a bit of history and maybe even feel like a king for a while, open a bottle of Commandaria and let the smells and flavors take you on a journey through time and legend!

 

Halloumi


When in Cyprus, it is an absolute must that you taste the island's traditional cheese, called Halloumi. Halloumi can be eaten as an accompaniment to a variety of dishes and can be grilled or fried without melting!

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Haloumi is enjoyed on a daily basis by Cypriots in a variety of ways, such as in salads, sandwiches, with eggs for breakfast, as a side to meat dishes, as an ingredient in gourmet recipes and, as strange as it may sound, as a companion to watermelon in the summer!

Halloumi is creamy white in color, with a soft and almost rubbery layered texture and a mild, salty taste in its commercial version, while it is harder and with a more intense and saltier flavor in its traditional version. The more widely available version is the commercial version that is quickly becoming popular in Western cuisine, even though the traditional version, at one time only produced by locals at villages, is now making its way onto the supermarket shelves. It is packaged in its natural juices with salt water and can be kept for long periods of time, up to a year if kept frozen and hermetically sealed.

Halloumi is traditionally made from a mixture unpasteurized goat's and sheep's milk, even though it is now made in its commercial version with pasteurized milk and a larger proportion of cow's rather than goat's and sheep's milk. Cow's milk makes the product cheaper to produce, but affects the taste, texture and behavior of the cheese during cooking (makes it melt faster). Halloumi's fat content is approximately 25% wet weight, 47% dry weight with about 17% protein.

Halloumi's most characteristic trait is its high melting point that comes from the fact that it is heated before it is shaped and placed in brine. This allows halloumi to be fried, roasted or grilled until brown without melting, making it one of the most versatile cheeses and ideal for use in cooked recipes. Heating halloumi makes it softer and more elastic with a distinctive squeak when biting into and also makes its flavor saltier and stronger.

Many times you will find halloumi served or packaged with mint, now used to enhance the mild flavor of the cheese. Traditionally, mint leaves were used as preservatives, but it was found that their taste matched the taste of halloumi, so they were kept even after more effective ways to preserve it were discovered.

Many locals also like aged halloumi, which is drier, much harder and much saltier, with a slightly yellowish appearance and a stronger, more intense taste. It is kept in its own brine and can now be found in many stores. In supermarkets you'll have to ask for aged halloumi at the delicatessen section as it won't be available on the shelves with other commercial cheeses.

Even though halloumi is also produced and enjoyed elsewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean like Greece, Egypt, Turkey and some Middle Eastern countries, it is traditionally Cypriot. Halloumi was first produced in Byzantine times in Cyprus and quickly spread to neighboring countries.

 

Souvla


Souvla has many times been humorously called the national food of Cyprus, which for some is quite fitting as it depicts Cypriots as meat lovers. It is Cyprus' version of barbecue and is usually enjoyed on special occasions, especially after periods of fasting like Christmas or Easter.

 

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Souvla is made from large pieces of pork, chicken or lamb passed on large skewers (the souvla) and then slowly grilled over hot charcoal on a foukou, the traditional Cypriot grill.

The foukou is an integral part of the process for cooking both souvla and souvlaki, For souvla, the long side of the foukou is used, in contrast to souvlaki where the shorter skewers are placed across the rectangular grill. The uniform cooking of the meat is ensured by the use of battery-powered motors that rotate the skewers both along and across the foukou at the same time. There are two levels on the foukou, allowing for the simultaneous cooking of up to three souvlas (two at the bottom, one at the top).

Unlike souvlaki, souvla is sometimes marinated before grilling. People have been known to use yoghurt, wine or beer as marinades, even though it is up to the souvla maker and his or her creativity. Purists prefer it plain.

You will find souvla at most Cypriot restaurants as part of meze, it will almost always be served at traditional weddings and is the centerpiece of a feast at celebrations right after fasting.

Souvla is usually served with potatoes and salad and enjoyed with local beer or wine.

 

Cypriot Souvlaki


Souvlaki was made famous by the Greeks but Cyprus has its own version, which is probably the most popular "fast food" on the island. And when we say fast food, don't think unhealthy. Cypriot souvlaki is actually one of the lowest fat foods you can have!

 

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Cypriot souvlaki is a very simple meal and consists of 2-3 skewers of grilled pieces of pork or chicken inside Cypriot pita bread and usually also includes tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley and sometimes onion and cabbage. Cypriots usually squeeze lemon over the souvlaki to add acidity and more taste.

Lean meat is cut into 3-5 cm cubes and then passed on stainless steel skewers before grilled on the traditional Cypriot grill called "foukou". The use of stainless steel skewers instead of wooden ones ensures the meat is cooked both on the outside and inside, even though you will scarcely find people using wooden ones. The meat is not seasoned in any way, making it relatively dry. This also makes the choice of quality meat critical as the taste cannot be disguised in spices and marinades.

Some people choose to order their souvlaki with a few pieces of sheftalia inside the pita. Sheftalia is minced pork with spices (usually onion, parsley and pepper but sometimes also garlic, halloumi and even cinnamon) that is wrapped in caul fat, the transparent membrane that surrounds the stomach of a pig, formed into elongated balls and grilled on skewers. It is a nice complimentary flavor to the otherwise dry and spice-less souvlakia.

When ordering souvlaki, you can have plain souvlaki, mixed souvlaki (with sheftalia), just sheftalia, or chicken souvlaki and you can have your order plain or "enhanced" (ενισχυμένη) or large in size. The number of pieces of souvlaki and sheftalia vary from restaurant to restaurant and so does the price. Generally, you can expect to find 15-20 pieces of souvlaki in a plain souvlaki pita, 10-15 pieces of souvlaki and 3-4 sheftalia in a mixed pita and 6-8 sheftalia in a sheftalia only pita. The price will range from 4 to 7 Euros.

People usually east souvlaki with a side of fresh Cypriot yogurt, tzatziki and sometimes pickled vegetables (ξυδάτα) such as spicy peppers or celery. At times, you may see people eating french fries with souvlaki, an obvious British addition.

Many Cypriots will have souvlaki at least once a week at home and they will usually have it delivered or pick it up from the nearest souvlaki restaurant. There are literally dozens of souvlaki restaurants within one square kilometer in the densely populated areas of towns as there is plenty of business to go around.

Souvlaki is always the default solution when people can't decide what to eat or if they don't have time to cook, as it is always a safe and healthy alternative to anything and can be eaten for lunch or dinner.

Cypriot Olive-Oil
Olive oil is a staple of the Mediterranean diet and is used in the majority of traditional Cypriot dishes.

 

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Cypriot olive oil is of the highest quality and carries with it a long tradition, starting from pre-historic times. Evidence of oil-extracting installations have been found in excavations all over the island, while the olive tree predates the existence of civilization on the island.Olive oil use in Cypriot cuisine includes the garnishing of salads and other starter dishes, or serves as a cooking medium for roasting or frying. Popular dishes where olive oil is used include gemista (vegetables stuffed with rice, minced pork and spices), boiled white beans, louvia (black-eyed peas), roasted potatoes and ttavas (lamb stew).You can purchase Cypriot olive oil everywhere, even in some small kiosks. It is available in many qualities, ranging from virgin, to extra virgin, to organic and specialty olive oils.You can observe the traditional olive-oil making process at olive presses in several villages throughout the island, with the most notable being the village of Anogyra just outside Limassol, where an Olive Museum has been established and where visitors can also learn about the history of olive oil in Cyprus.