One of the many highlights of our trip to Cyprus was being able to to see heritage craft making and traditional culinary production methods that are still practised in individual villages with the know -how being preserved and handed down from generation to generation. We observed this craft in action as well as learned more about the origins and history of the products being made. I highly recommend visiting the adorable villages to see these wonderful crafts as it gives a great insight into Cypriot culture.
In the village of Choirokoitia, which is already well-known for its invaluable Neolithic settlement, we visited the workshop of a local artist called Petros Nicolaou, which is also his family home and is a beautiful 1903 building made from traditional Tochni stone and wood. Inside the home there is a small museum where you can see furniture and artefacts preserved to depict the olden day village life.
We were seated in his beautiful courtyard, adorned with plants, and with various species of birds chirping all around, and he demonstrated the art of Basketry, or basket weaving, a craft that he learned from his grandparents.
Petros uses thin water reeds to create the various shapes and sizes of baskets that he sells. Basket making dates from ancient times, when baskets were made to serve a range of specific practical purposes from carrying agricultural produce, making Halloumi cheese and transporting wine.
He explained how the baskets are made, showing us the technique, and told us that a typical basket can take up to three hours to complete! So much love and passion goes in to making these baskets and it truly made me appreciate them a whole lot more!
2. Halloumi Cheese Production
Whilst at Petros’s lovely home, he also demonstrated how he makes Halloumi cheese the traditional way and we were able to try some of this delicious cheese, which is so versatile!
This white, semi-hard cheese has been produced in Cyprus for centuries and is traditionally prepared with a precise quantity of goat or sheep’s milk, mainly sourced from the same villages that produce it, in order to qualify as authentic Halloumi. Mint is often added to this salty cheese, and it has a long shelf life.
In older times, the process for making halloumi played a particular social role in the lives of rural people as it constituted a collaborative activity between village families and neighbours, especially amongst the women. Each family would produce a small amount of milk from their domestic animals and there would be small cooperatives for jointly processing the milk. In this way, within a few weeks, the neighbourhood gathered adequate quantities of halloumi to share between them. The head and coordinator of cooperative was named “galatarka,” which translates as milk woman. This woman would be an experienced Halloumi cheese maker.
Over time small commercial dairy units were set up in many villages making halloumi and other traditional cheese products, which they sold to nearby communities. Today, Halloumi is still produced following the traditional ways of processing, the know how of which has been transferred through generations.
3. Lefkara Lace
In the Larnaka village of Lefkara, which is surrounded by the Troodos mountains and overlooks the sea, I loved meandering down its cobbled lanes and seeing its traditional stone cottages and pretty facades. The village is best-known for its traditional embroidery techniques and silversmithing.
We visited a family run shop called Rouvis, which specialises in both ‘Lefkaritika’ embroidered linens and Silversmithing.
The ‘Lefkaritika’ embroidered linens craft is made in a traditional way, which women have learned from their mothers, passed on down many generations,and this craft is included on the UNESCO Intangible World Heritage List.
The process is very intricate, and we were shown an example of it by Toula Rouvis, proud of her heritage skills and amazing to see!
Products hand made and sold include tablecloths, curtains, placemats and dresser mats, which are on display at local shops in the village, or alternatively, a bespoke order can be requested for something truly unique. The Rouvis family have had many international orders for bespoke designs, each highly prized and at a premium price.
It is reputed thatit’s reputed that Leonardo da Vinci visited the village in 1481 and purchased lace here. This can be seen in Leonardo da Vinci’s renowned ‘Last Supper’ painting where the tablecloth featured has the same distinctive pattern as the lefkaritika.
As you wander down the village streets you can catch glimpses of women busy at work outside the doors of their shops and houses, continuing the village’s long lacemaking traditions with beaming smiles.
It is thought that this craft was originally taught to the inhabitants of the village by the Venetian ladies of the 15th century when the island was under Venetian rule. It is lovely to see it still in practice today. The local women who embroider the lace are not paid by the hour as it takes considerable time to make each piece. Instead, they are paid per item.
4. The art of filigree or ‘trifouri’
The Rouvis family also trade in the delicate craft of filigree or ‘trifouri’ whereby fine silver wire is twisted into beautiful hand-made jewellery such as earrings, pendants and brooches, as well as decorative cutlery and tableware, with a resulting ‘spider web’ effect. It is thought by some that jewellery, like many other arts and crafts, originated in Cyprus.
This traditional craft is still practised mainly in the village of Lefkara and you can see a vast array of designs on display in the shops as you walk through the village.
5. Production of Loukoumi – Cyprus Delights
Cyprus is famous for its delicious sweets known as ‘delights’, which have been produced on the island for centuries. These soft, chewy sweets are made without the use of preservatives and simply with sugar, cornstarch and flavouring or nuts, and then dusted with icing sugar to prevent them from sticking together.
We visited a delightful little sweet factory and shop called Arsinoe Delights, where we observed the production of these sweets, and we also got to try lots of different flavours. A fabulous experience!
The most traditional flavour is rose, but they have lots of other flavours such as lemon, strawberry, banana, cherry, chocolate and much more!
I was kindly gifted a box of the cherry flavour to take home, which didn’t even make it back to England as I consumed it the next day!