One of the staple ingredients in the Maltese cuisine is the traditional ‘Gbejna’ – a small round cheese made from sheep’s milk. The small cheeses – known as Gbejniet – are usually bought right off the shepherd or local village convenience stores, and are seasonal.
The preparation of the cheese requires the milk to take the shape of the cheese hurdle which traditionally was made of dried reeds. These are then dried in a well ventilated area, protected by a special mosquito net.
Ġbejniet are prepared and served in a variety of forms: fresh (friski or tal-ilma), sundried (moxxa, bajda or t’Għawdex), salt cured (maħsula) or peppered (tal-bżar). The fresh variety have a smooth texture and a milky flavour and are kept in their own whey in a similar manner to mozzarella. The sundried variety have a more definite, nutty almost musky taste, and are fairly hard. The peppered variety are covered in crushed black pepper and cured, after which they may be stored in oil or pickled in vinegar. Their sharp taste becomes more piquant the more they age and they also develop a crumbly texture.
Ġbejna is an important element in a number of dishes such as soppa tal-armla. It is often added to pasta dishes or soup to enhance flavour as a pizza topping or the filling for ħobż biż-żejt.