In terms that kids can understand: it’s about cheese-hipsterdom

The Skinny | No 75 – No ġbejna, no cry

What are we skinning? The traditional Maltese goat’s cheeselet - ġbejna - failing to acquire EU food protection after pushback from large-scale manufacturers.

Why are we skinning it? In the words of a fellow local media outlet, it represents a David and Goliath battle of an adorably close-to-the-bone order (calcium, and all that).

Before we go on, wouldn’t it be technically more accurate to call it SKIMMING in this case? I see you’re keen to break the cringe-o-meter on this fine morning.

The thought of the ġbejna being humiliated out of a much-deserved - and, in my opinion, long-overdue - bit of international recognition did make me cringe in a bad way. Oh, it’s no doubt painful to see something you love so much get the short end of the stick.

By representatives of ‘big business’, no less. Yeah, you’d think that the ġbejna becoming the culinary equivalent of a UNESCO world heritage site would be just kind of national uplift we need during a pandemic.

Yeah, I don’t get it... aren’t we all supposed to be batting for ‘Team Malta’? Why are Benna, of all people, bucking that trend now? It seems that Team Malta is primarily about legitimising xenophobia towards asylum-seekers, so there’s that to bear in mind.

I know but... surely fetishising local agriculture is part and parcel of the right-leaning xenophobic brand? Not in this brave new world we’re living in, apparently.

So what’s the upshot of the whole debate as it stands now? Well, it seems to have devolved into farcical semantics, really.

How so? Both sides - the association of sheep and goat herders on one end, industrial manufacturers on another - are claiming that the matter could be resolved if their respective products were simply renamed, since the fact that ġbejna has become too generic in nomenclature is pretty much a done deal.

How can ġbejna be considered ‘generic’? It’s just about the only ‘traditional’ Maltese thing I still like! Well, it all comes down to the type of milk that’s used... and the easily-accessible, widely-available ‘supermarket’ ġbejna will tend to be made from the ‘generic’ cow’s milk variants.

So in terms that kids can understand... it’s about cheese-hipsterdom. Pretty much, yes.

Do say: “While the legislative and bureaucratic disputes that underpin the decision to not grant the ġbejna protective status appear to be legally airtight, the fact that Malta has no registered protected foods remains something of a sad spectacle - to say nothing of the fact that local farmers are made to compete with their industrial counterparts even over a product as closely associated to indigenous food as the ġbejna.”

Don’t say: “The only viable rebuttal by the traditional sheep herders: ‘Your mother is generic’.”