Banu drives us back towards Nicosia. At night, the grassy fields are pitch black oceans. We hit the sudden bright lights of the city. I thank everyone, wish them a goodnight, and walk through the curved Ottoman arch of the Merit hotel. The lobby’s marble floors are shiny mirrors for the casino lights from next door. Casino?
I take an elevator down two floors. It is the backbone of a winding staircase. At the top you have metal detectors and at the bottom roulette tables. Everyone working here is young and impeccably dressed in starched, white shirts. I get a kind of Pirates of Penzance vibe. In place of the Gilbert and Sullivan libretto, three tall Ukrainian women in red dresses lip sync American songs. They perform the same dance moves over and over. My blackjack table is just a few feet away. Wow, okay, now this feels like a James Bond movie.
Everyone working here is young and impeccably dressed in starched, white shirts. I get a kind of Pirates of Penzance vibe. In place of the Gilbert and Sullivan libretto, three tall Ukrainian women in red dresses lip sync American songs.
I sit at a twenty-one table as they start to shuffle. The man next to me has the unofficial haircut of Turkey, a shaven pate. He introduces himself as Dennis the Menace. Turns out he’s from the Hamptons in Long Island.
I play a bit and lose 60 euros. But the frosty staff warm up and the free beer stays chilled, so it’s all good. And unlike a 007 novel, no one but the cards tries to kill me. This is how a small casino should be!
I head back up to my room. Right as I’m going to bed a cell phone rings. My USA bank is upset that I’m here in Turkish occupied Cyprus. To help me out, they’re freezing my credit and debit cards until I’m back in Greece. Gee, thanks.
Cyprus’ Best Export: Halloumi Cheese
This morning Banu, Ali and I tour his cheese factory during production. Their facility has some of the best quality control procedures that I’ve seen. I ask about beard facial masks. They have them but people with too much hair aren’t allowed in at all.
Halloumi is a mixed milk, semi soft cheese that is not technically difficult to make. The basic process is still heating sheep’s milk with either goat and / or cow. You’ll notice this with very old recipes. The farmers made cheese with whatever they had at hand. If one year the goats died, then your surviving flock were all you had. So you made your cheese with sheep’s milk. The French approach to cuisine is like this. Work with what you’ve got and turn it into something else delicious. Stuck with a lot of old, stale bread? Throw a leftover raw egg at it et voila, you now have French toast.
To be a P.D.O. cheese, Halloumi milk must have more non-cow than cow in it. The recent recession drove a lot of sheep and goat herder’s out of business, so there is a milk shortage on the island. Combine this with the non-European north still trying to qualify for the European South’s P.D.O. certification, and pity the poor dairy farmers.
In production rennet is added to the milk, allowing curds to form. The curds are then individually cooked in their own whey. Their small, metal molds remind me of muffin sheets.