Gbejniet Recipe: traditional Maltese cheese

Gbejniet Recipe: traditional Maltese cheese

Gbejniet is the traditional sheep’s milk cheese of Malta. We were lucky enough to visit the kitchen of Lily Angel Micallef in Melbourne and learn her gbejniet recipe! Lily’s family migrated from Malta in 1960, leaving behind her Nanna who was the official gbejniet maker for her village, Siggiewi.

Lily tells that her grandmother would milk her sheep into a pail which would go straight to the kitchen to be made into cheese, meaning no heat treatment or skimming of the cream occurred. Her grandmother would make her own rennet from scratch, which curdled the fresh warm milk and from these curds she would make her cheese. Lily suggests using the creamiest cow’s milk possible, or adding milk powder to replicate the texture traditionally derived from rich, fresh sheep’s milk.

gbejniet friski

Lily’s grandmother used traditional reed baskets to drain the curds in, which Lily still treasures a handful of today. Modern cheesemakers use plastic moulds which try to replicate the beautiful patterns left in the cheese by the reed baskets of old (but are much easier to clean!)

 

Lily’s Nanna’s reed basket & bread baking bowl

The word “gbejna” (singular form of “gbejniet”) most probably derives from the arabic word “jaban/jabna” meaning cheese. Gbejniet are a versatile little cheese, being used fresh (friski), sundried (moxxa) or pickled in vinegar and cracked pepper (tal-bzar). Each form it comes in has a different flavour and use – fresh being used like ricotta, dried being grated like parmesan or used to flavour dishes, and the “pikanti” pepper cheese eaten most often as a special treat on “galleti” (Maltese crackers). However you like it, you can make all types from the same gbejniet recipe below.

gbejniet tal-bzar

Ingredients:

  • 3 litres of milk (cow, goat or sheeps milk are all fine, just get the creamiest you can find)
  • 1 cup of full cream milk powder (optional)
  • 3 tsp. dried rennet or 3ml liquid rennet
  • salt

Equipment:

  • Large stainless steel pot
  • Milk thermometer (or pinky finger)
  • Slotted spoon
  • Gbejniet baskets (or small mozarella/ricotta baskets, available from speciality stores)
  • Draining trays (baking racks and trays work well)

Method:

Add milk to saucepan, and whisk in milk powder (if using). Heat milk gently on stove until it reaches 38 degrees celcius. Lily just uses her finger (she’s a pro!) – the milk should be warm but not hot, just a little above body temperature.

Remove milk from heat and add rennet and stir through the milk. Transfer to a fridge or cool place for 2 hours, until the mixture sets.

Once set, scoop the curd into baskets sitting on a drip-tray over a collecting pan so you can save the whey.

Sprinkle with salt.

Leave to drip overnight.

The following morning, turn cheese out onto the dripping tray and sprinkle with salt again. Keep in the fridge or a cold place for another 12 hours.

Lily and Maude

Your gbejniet are now ready to use fresh (like ricotta), or can be dehydrated in a drying cabinet or electric dehydrator until hard. Dry gbejniet can be used as is, or to make peppered ones. To make peppered gbejniet place dry gbejniet into a jar filled with vinegar for 24 hours. Remove from jar and toss gbejniet in cracked pepper. They can be stored in the refrigerator in oil and/or vinegar.

Lily with her grandmother’s beautiful baking bowl.

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Comments (17)

  1. Avatar

    A great recipe, very easy to follow and produces a lovely creamy cheese.

    Nellie Pryke
    Jul 18, 2018 Reply
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      Hi Nellie, I’m glad it worked out well for you. Robyn

      Robyn Rosenfeldt
      Jul 18, 2018 Reply
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      with pepper cheese still a bit fresh needs to be drier can I put them into vinegar or oil now or do I need to leave them out for air to make them harder

      Natalie clements
      Apr 15, 2019 Reply
  2. Avatar

    How does Lily make the rennet?

    Susan
    Jul 23, 2018 Reply
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      Hi Susan – it was Lily’s grandmother who made her own rennet from scratch. Lily buys hers.

      Maude Farrugia
      Jul 24, 2018 Reply
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        Yes, we understood it was her grandmother…but this was an interesting point that wasn’t delved into. It would be nice if there was some more accuracy in the recipe. It is stated ‘sprinkle with salt” but salt is not in the ingredients. And how much? To make the peppered cheese…vinegar…what vingar? Red wine vinegar? White wine vinegar?

        Pierre Bugeja
        Apr 18, 2019 Reply
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          Hi Pierre, you can use any vinegar you like, but white wine vinegar is probably the most traditional. Lily doesn’t measure out her salt, hence our instruction to just sprinkle. And she doesn’t have her grandmother’s rennet recipe unfortunately, but we’d love to know if anyone has one.

          Robyn Rosenfeldt
          Sep 24, 2019 Reply
  3. Avatar

    Following your recipe looks so easy but had a problem working out the amount of rennet to use as they come in tablets..wish me luck I used 12 tablet in 6 litres of milk…
    What do you do with the whey????????????

    sam
    Sep 5, 2018 Reply
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      Good luck Sam! Lily just gave us details for the powdered sachets of rennet or liquid, but I imagine the powdered and tablet form would be similar. We make a simple ricotta with the whey, but it can also be used in lots of healthy pickle recipes too.

      Maude Farrugia
      Sep 6, 2018 Reply
  4. Avatar

    Are junket tablets the same as rennet. And how many are used per litre of milk?

    Lina Saliba
    Sep 6, 2018 Reply
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      Hi Lina – Junket tablets contain rennet, but they have other stuff in them too. I wouldn’t use them if you’re after an authentic Gbejniet texture.

      Maude Farrugia
      Sep 6, 2018 Reply
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    Hi Maude, how many junket tablets per litre of milk do you use if you don’t have Rennet?

    Mary Boland
    Sep 23, 2018 Reply
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      Hi Mary – I can’t say for sure as we use rennet, not junket, but you could try substituting at least 3 junket tablets for the 3 tsp. of rennet powder. Be aware that while junket tablets contain rennet, they have other stuff in them too and you might find your Gbejniet texture is a little different from the traditional ones made with rennet.

      Maude Farrugia
      Sep 24, 2018 Reply
  6. Avatar

    How can I store the gbejniet friski

    Margaret
    Mar 30, 2019 Reply
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      In the fridge, covered in whey. They will last for a few days.

      Robyn Rosenfeldt
      Sep 24, 2019 Reply
  7. Avatar

    What is the best way to dry them without any special equipment?

    Eddie
    Sep 22, 2019 Reply
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      Hi Eddie, Lily says she dries hers in the refrigerator, but traditionally they’re dried in the hot mediterranean sun!

      Robyn Rosenfeldt
      Sep 24, 2019 Reply

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