Halloumi shortage? Syrian family in Yorkshire have the answer with Squeaky Cheese

When Britons get a taste for a foreign import, they lap it up in relentless fashion. Just look at prosecco: consumer demand is near-insatiable.

Squeaky cheese producer Razan Alsous and her husband Raghid
Squeaky cheese producer Razan Alsous and her husband Raghid

Another example is halloumi, the salty semi-hard cheese from Cyprus. Traditionally made from a blend of goat’s and sheep’s milk, it’s been a mainstay of Middle Eastern countries for centuries, but was, until recently, niche in Europe.

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Britain is now the biggest European halloumi buyer outside Cyprus.

Razan Alsous

And, now, there’s an apparent shortage (which you can read more about by clicking here).

Leading halloumi producer Pittas, the main halloumi supplier to the UK, is now reportedly sending emergency supplies by road instead of by sea. Some dispute this, but if halloumi consumption remains on its current trajectory, we’ll be in trouble.

To be at a modern British barbecue without halloumi in 2018 would be frankly catastrophic. Especially while the World Cup is on.

In Huddersfield, a family of Syrian refugees makes a cheese just like halloumi.

Squeaky cheese

They can’t call it halloumi due to a legal case (Cyprus has trademarked the name), so producer Razan Alsous and her husband Raghid call it ‘Squeaky Cheese’ instead.

Mrs Alsous, who fled war in Syria in 2012, first started making the cheese at home in Huddersfield, soon after immigrating to the UK.

She struggled to find the foodstuff which, for Syrians, is eaten at breakfast, usually with juicy olives, strained labneh yoghurt, and flatbread.

“I couldn’t find halloumi in Huddersfield, so I thought, ‘why not make it myself?’,” Mrs Alsous, who was a pharmacist back in Damascus, said to our sister title, i.

“I started experimenting at home. We got a £2,500 loan to make it commercially. My first premises was a fried chicken shop, and we were there for three years. We have won lots of awards [among them the World Cheese Award Gold Prize 2016].

“People love to eat our cheese.”

Last year, Mrs Alsous and her husband – an engineer by trade – moved to an industrial unit near Halifax. With Yorkshire Dama Cheese (Dama is a riff on her home city) becoming an established regional name, the site was opened by HRH Anne, Princess Royal.

Demand for Squeaky Cheese is soaring.

Mrs Alsous, a mum of three, said: “I think people love that we’re local. There is provenance. We make lots of different cheeses now – my husband is also looking into Syrian yoghurt. I think the milk here in Yorkshire is very good.

“But we are going to have to increase the output.”

Right now, Yorkshire Dama Cheese makes 2,500 blocks of Squeaky Cheese every week. Mrs Alsous says this isn’t enough any more – and, she says, she’s noticed an uptick in requests since the shortage from Cyprus.

“Yes, in the last week I have seen more people ordering Squeaky Cheese. I don’t know why – maybe it’s just summer. But I have heard about this shortage. Whatever is going on, we cannot make enough – people order it before it’s made.

“It’s normal for us to be very busy and that’s good. We have future plans.”

The process is underway to try and get Yorkshire Dama Cheese onto supermarket shelves for the first time.

Squeaky Cheese – while award-winning and coveted – remains relatively unknown on the national stage.

This could soon change.

READ: Where to sample the best comfort food in Yorkshire“We have been talking to the supermarket and we are doing training and documentation. There’s a lot to do – we have to make sure the cheese is traceable and to the high standards. We’re analysing everything. We would have to increase production three times over, maybe more.

"It’s exciting – the company recognises the quality, and sees the potential. We have a Yorkshire cheese made with local ingredients in an old authentic way. I use cow’s milk to make mine, but the flavour is still very nice. We’ve been growing 45 per cent year-on-year since we started. It is good. But we just cannot keep up with all the orders – we have to grow”.

The Alsous’ had a hard journey from Syria to Yorkshire, but while “a hard decision”, Mrs Alsous says her family soon settled and got lots of support from the community.

“It wasn’t easy to move, but people have helped our business,” Mrs Alsous said to i.

“I don’t think culture here is too different to Damascus – people love heritage and food and communities. We’ve been accepted. People have been encouraging.”

Razan and Raghid Alsous’ three children, six, eight, and nine, are in school in Yorkshire.

The couple, with assistant manager Karen Bradley, sell their cheeses, yoghurt balls and labneh in markets from Sheffield to Edinburgh.

Some deli shops stock it as far away as Cornwall.

Soon, your local supermarket? Never mind the halloumi shortage.

This article first appeared on our sister title, inews.co.uk