Little cheese from the Gozitan shores | Gozo gbejniet

Gbejniet are part of local cuisine, popular among Maltese, Gozitans and tourists alike. Gbejniet don’t get better than on the island of Gozo with recipes for making these popular cheeselets passed down from generation to generation since time immemorial. 

Gbejniet can be made with cow, sheep or goat’s milk, however it is the ones made of sheep’s milk that make the true gbejna. The production of gbejniet is steeped in tradition with a number of rules having been passed on from mother to daughter – some which are plainly superstition.

It was locally believed that the best cheese was prepared from the milk of sheep born in autumn, and not from those born in spring.The fact is that during a rainy season when the sheep can have as much grass as they desire the milk is more plentiful. The more grass and fodder they get, the better the milk and the cheese produced.

A local tradition held that the best cheese could be obtained in the months with the letter R: September, October, November, December, January, February, March and April. Milk was not considered good enough in the months without an R: May, June, July and August.

Gbejniet are made by adding rennet – a digestive enzyme produced by mammals – to the milk and allowing the milk to stand until it hardens enough to be cut with a knife, whereupon it is placed in plastic containers and allowed to harden further.

Gbejniet are available in three different types. A large quantity is sold fresh as gbejniet friski, and is best eaten with some crispy Maltese bread.

Gbejniet are also available half-dried, moxxi. The cheese that was settled for 24 hours Fresh gbejniet can be left to dry on cheese-hurdles inside a nemusiera, a small box covered with a mosquito screen to shield the gbejniet from mosquitoes. Such boxes were once a common sight in the villages and some still survive. In about two to three days the cheese is dry enough to be sold, and after a few more days they are good for grating.

Gbejniet are also available peppered, gbejniet tal-bzar. Semi-dried gbejniet are dipped in boiling water and dried with a cloth, then placed in a bottle and sprinkled with salt, pepper and vinegar according to taste.

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The "nemusiera" is used to protect the ġbejniet from flies not from mosquitoes (ġbejniet don't have blood for mosquitoes to suck) In Maltese, the word "nemus" can mean either mosquitoes or small flies which can contaminate the ġbejniet. Such are the perils of amateur translation!