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Say cheese

Most of the sheep and goats milk produced in Malta goes towards making the delicious traditional ġbejniet. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli.

Most of the sheep and goats milk produced in Malta goes towards making the delicious traditional ġbejniet. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli.

Did you know ricotta is not technically a cheese because it is not made from milk?

In fact, the word ricotta translates into re-cooked and, as the name suggests, it is made by re-cooking the by-product in the production of cheese called whey.

So did you know that Maltese irkotta is not actually ricotta because the local version is made from milk and not whey? In fact, it is manufactured from whole milk heated in the presence of sea water, which explains why it is slightly salty.

As in the case of ricotta, there are many cheeses and meats we eat without understanding their origin and how they are made.

Inspired by this, when John O'Dea took over Scotts Supermarket's deli operations, he realised most of the staff did not have much background knowledge about the products they were selling. In an attempt to educate his people, he started researching the history of cheeses and meats. Before he knew it, he had collected enough information to fill a booklet, which is exactly what he did.

The supermarket published the booklet entitled The Evolution Of The Delicatessen, which was distributed to staff. Customers who spend over €20 at the delicatessen can buy it for €1.

The guide features the origins of various types of cheese and salamis and gives suggestions on pairing them with wine. A soft cheese like brie would, for example, go nicely with sweet sherry or merlot while mild cheddar should ideally be accompanied by a chardonnay.

According to the handbook, legend has it that the method of making the popular cheese was discovered when a Somerset milkmaid left a pail of milk in the Cheddar Gorge caves for several weeks for safety. When she returned to collect it, she found it had changed into a tasty substance.

From a local point of view, the booklet outlines how cheese has been produced in Malta since prehistoric times. One of the most popular local cheeses is the ġbejna, or cheeselet, made from goat's or sheep's milk.

In Malta and Gozo virtually all sheep's milk and most goat's milk is used for making ġbejniet that can be either fresh, semi-dried or peppered.

You may also want to know that, before EU accession, Brussels accepted Malta's request to protect the traditional ġbejna and irkotta, a decision worth toasting... provided the wine is a Beaujolais or sauvignon blanc, as the booklet suggests.

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