Britain now consumes more halloumi cheese than anywhere outside its native Cyprus, according to new figures.
A staggering 3,030 tonnes were imported into Britain in 2012 – double that of the next biggest European buyer, Sweden.
The British love-affair with the chewy Cypriot cheese has grown dramatically thanks to celebrity chefs and more adventurous culinary tastes.
Tesco has doubled its range of Greek cheese in the past year and sales of its own-brand halloumi are up by a whopping 132 per cent.
They now stock and sell six different varieties and sales of feta cheese are also soaring in the UK.
Tesco cheese buyer Ashleigh MacFarlane said: “We started selling one type of feta and one type of halloumi about 10 years ago in our larger stores.
“The majority of sales would come during the summer months as they were then mainly bought to go in salads.
“But demand has really been boosted by celebrity chefs such as Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay who have featured these cheeses on their TV shows and in their recipe books.
“These programmes have helped demonstrate the versatility of these cheeses which are now often used in cooking to make pizzas, pies and lasagne as well as making great toppings for pasta dishes.”
Halloumi is made from a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk and its high melting point means it can be fried, grilled or barbecued.
It is also packaged in brine, which means it can be stored unopened in the fridge for up to a year whilst giving it a unique salty taste.
Cheese specialist Neil Burchell has said: “It’s easy to see why halloumi has done so well – it’s delicious fried, grilled or barbecued.”
It has also become a popular choice in restaurants such as Nando’s, which serve slices of halloumi as a side order. Its sales have risen 138 per cent since 2010.
Antonis Evangelou, owner of London’s Lemonia restaurant, said he now sells 60kg of the cheese per week.
“You can do so many things with it,” he said. “More people are requesting it now.
“It’s not just growing in Britain but everywhere – in the US, in Europe. I was in Dubai recently and they served it in the breakfast lounge, it was very popular, they ate all of it.
“It’s a unique taste. You can’t compare it with any other cheese. It’s just unique.”
In 2012 the UK imported more Halloumi than Sweden, at 1,280 tonnes, Germany, at 870 tonnes and Austria, at 510 tonnes, put together.
With rising demand the Cypriots have begun a fight to give Halloumi a protected designation of origin (PDO) status from the European Union.
The protection would lay down a criteria which a cheese would have to meet in order to be labelled as “halloumi” and protect the Cypriot industry from competitors.
However the process has so far failed, resulting in big clashes as to how to make the cheese.
Traditional Halloumi is made from a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk, but with no PDO to regulate its creation many varieties can also contain cow’s milk.