This is one special cheese. Easy to make if you have what you need, and nothing quite compares. If any food reminds you of Malta, this is definitely at the top of the list. We know it as gbejniet and is traditionally made out of goat or sheep milk. However, these days cows milk can be used too. Mum told me that Nanna Maria used to milk her cows in Agnes Banks and bring pails filled straight into the kitchen. Rennet was immediately added without needing to warm the milk on the stove and the cheese making chemical process began.
I just did some research and when milk leaves a cow it is 38oC. This is the exact temperature I warmed my milk which came out of the refrigerator before adding rennet to create the cheese. Go figure!
I don’t remember Nanna bringing the milk in pails into the kitchen but I do remember her milking the cows and even letting me have a go! Nanna used to always make us caramel milkshakes from her fresh cows milk. I also remember the mesh cage she had outside which she used to dry the cheese in.
Gbejniet can come in a few forms – fresh, dried or cured. I made 15 gbejniets this time. I used 4 fresh gbejniets for widow’s soup (soppa tal-armla), 5 fresh gbejniets for ricotta pie (torta tal irkotta), 1 fresh gbejniet went straight into Aurelia’s mouth and I also dried 5 gbejniet to cure them. I am going to post a separate blog post in relation to drying and curing gbejniet.
All you need to make gbejniet is milk, rennet, a large pot, thermometer, cheese baskets, salt, and a draining container would be handy too. The milk I used to make my cheese recently was jersey cow milk which was pasteurised but unhomogenised. These days it is quite difficult to get milk straight from a cow, sheep or goat but you can still make ġbejniet if you get milk which is unhomogenised. My large local grocery store stocks jersey cow milk which is unhomogenised and pasteurised.
I am not really sure what milk does and doesn’t work but I bought this milk as it was the closest thing I could get to my Nanna Maria’s milk she used which was straight from her cows. It just made sense to me, so that’s what I did.
I used rennet powder to coagulate the milk. Junket can also be used but it is different in that it is not pure rennet and this may also impact whether the coagulation will work well or not. I got my rennet powder from Malta. However, you can buy it online. My mum and family use junket which works for them but they also use fresh milk.
If you are drying out the cheese remember that climates vary from country to country. I have been drying some of my cheese indoors as it really is not hot enough here at the moment in London. I am also worried about squirrels and cats. I unfortunately don’t have a special cage to hold them in either.
As well as cheese, I also made ricotta from the remaining whey which was left over after I removed the curds from the pot. What a bonus! Easy peasy too.
One last important thing to mention is that you need special baskets (qwieleb) which will hold the curds which eventually becomes cheese. Traditionally these were made from reeds but most of us now use plastic baskets. My baskets came from Malta. I just looked online and couldn’t seem to find these for sale. You may need to look around, or ask family or friends.
- 4.5 litres milk. Try and get unhomogenised and as creamy as possible (I used jersey cow milk)
- 3 tsp Rennet powder
- 50 ml water
- 15 Cheese baskets (qwieleb)
- Large pot to warm milk
- Tray or dish to store cheese in baskets (a dripping tray is ideal)
- Cloth to strain the ricotta from the whey and a strainer
- Place milk in large pot on a stove and gently warm.
- Use thermometer to check when the temperature of the milk reaches 38oC.
- Immediately remove off heat.
- In a small cup place rennet powder and about 50 ml water. Mix quickly and gently stir into milk.
- Leave in kitchen on a table for 3 hours.
- After 1.5 hours gently lacerate the coagulating milk in vertical lines and leave for a further 1.5 hours. This helps the separation of the curds and whey.
- Once the 3 hours has completed get 1 basket and scoop up the curds to fill the basket. Place in tray.
- Keep doing this until all baskets have been filled and placed in the tray.
- If you do not have a dripping tray gently tip the tray to remove any of the whey (drip back into the pot) before placing in the fridge.
- Sprinkle salt on top of the curds and place in the fridge. Leave overnight.
- You can now make ricotta from the remaining whey. Boil the whey.
- Leave to cool slightly (about 15 minutes). Place a cloth over a strainer and pour the whey and ricotta mixture over the cloth. You will be left with the ricotta.
- The following morning turn the cheese over and sprinkle with salt again. Keep in the fridge for another 12 hours.
- Your fresh gbejniet should then be ready.
The main ingredients to make gbejniet.
Cutting vertical lines into the coagulating milk to separate the curds and the whey further.
Scooping the curds with the cheese baskets.
A fresh gbejniet!
Boiling the left over whey to make ricotta.
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