Scenes from Gozo.
Gozo is the second of the three Maltese islands. When you consider that the smallest has only three (elderly) inhabitants, and that Gozo itself is only 8.7 x 4.5 miles, you might be surprised to learn that Gozo has a food culture all of its own. Best among this is the Gozitan fresh cheese, Ġbejniet. I made it my mission to meet a cheesemaker while I was on the island and explore this. The world is a smaller tighter place when you can get close to the origins of your food, and the people who make it.
Ġbejniet is made daily by small farmers (one I met, Victor, from the charming Dreams of Horses farm has just a few sheep and makes it daily). I managed to track down Rikardu, who has a farm with 200 sheep and goats which he milks by hand daily, and then makes fresh cheese with the milk while it is still warm. He sells the cheese in his restaurant Ta’ Rikardu, where you can have the fresh cheese (Ġbejniet) on its own, or a platter for two of fresh cheese, wind dried cheese and peppered cheese (at just €8.95). .
Rikardu, making his cheese.
Rikardu starts by adding rennet to the milk. The rennet which he uses now is a commercial product, however, before the tradition was to kill a suckling sheep and use the stomach (from which rennet is obtained) to set the cheese by letting it sit in the whey for 3 days. This whey would then be used for up to a few months. The milk, with rennet added, is allowed to sit until it sets, which takes about 20 minutes. Rikardu then pours it into individual moulds (little plastic baskets, really), which are allowed to drain for about 10 minutes, before each cheese is turned within gently, all by hand. The cheese is good to eat a few hours later, and for up to a couple of days. Rikardu showed me an original wicker mould too, but these are expensive now and also less practical when it comes to cleaning them.