Syrian Refugee Becomes Award Winning Cheese Maker

Anyone who has had the pleasure of eating a Syrian breakfast knows that one of its tasty components is a good chunk of halloumi cheese. Halloumi, or hallum as it’s known in some parts of the world, is a Cypriot cheese that is also native to Greece, Turkey, and the Levant (Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine). The cheese has taken Europe by storm, with Britain and Sweden being it’s most popular European countries of consumption outside of Cyprus. Sales of the cheese rose 35% from 2011 to 2012 in Tesco, one of the UK’s largest retailers.

Razan Alsous, one the UK’s Syrian refugees, doesn’t begin with halloumi cheese. Razan was a native of Damascus until 2012, when a bomb blast outside her husband’s office caused her to rethink her living situation. While the war had not fully taken off by this point, many could see that a huge fire was on the horizon. Razan, her husband, and their three children made a trip to the UK to visit her brother-in-law who has living in Huddersfield. While they were in the UK the family decided to apply for asylum, and set about getting the process in motion. Razan’s asylum was granted relatively smoothly but it took two years for her husband’s approval to come through. Razan set to work on looking for a job. As her pharmacy degree wasn’t being recognized in the UK, her entrepreneurial mind got to work.

Cheesy Success
After spending some time as a translator, Razan decided she wanted to set up her own enterprise. She noticed a gap in the market when it came to halloumi cheese. While she found the product being sold in UK supermarkets, she believed the quality left a lot to be desired. She was also impressed with local Yorkshire cow’s milk, and so went about mixing her eastern taste with western produce.

Razan managed to get a £2,500 (about $3200) enterprise loan, and with that initial seed money, went about creating her product. Calling the cheese Yorkshire Dama Cheese was a tip of the hat to her two homes, Yorkshire and Damascus, Razan has received acclaim from a range of critics. She won bronze at the 2014 World Cheese Awards, was shortlisted for the best cheese at the 2015 Delicious Yorkshire food festival, and won gold at the World Cheese Awards in 2016. She was also nominated for recognition by the former British Prime Minister David Cameron for the 2015 International Women’s Day. The opening of her new factory was attended by British Royal Princess Anne. Her cheese is now available in three varieties: original, chilli, and mint. Razan and her family are yet another example of the enriching effect refugees can have to the societies that host them, provided they are given a safe space, free from discrimination.

Written by Tamim Mobayed

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Tamim is a 28 year old Dublin born Syrian who grew up in Belfast. He is working in the Media and studying for a Ph.D. in Psychology, part-time. He's a big fan of Liverpool Football Club and cats.