Gbejna is a round “cheeselet” from Malta made with sheep or goat milk. The Maltese term gbejna is the diminutive form of the word ġobon, for cheese.
Gbejna is typically prepared and served in two forms, fresh and dried, though it can also be cured in salt (in which case it is called gbejna mahsula) or covered in pepper, to make gbejna tal-bzar. Fresh gbejna, or ġbejniet friski, tastes like fresh milk. It is normally sold in its own whey and is also known as gbejna tal-ilma (“in water”). Dried gbejna, known as gbejna moxxa, has a more marked, nutty taste. To make it, the cheeselets are dried outdoors in special boxes made with screens that allow the wind in while simultaneously shielding the cheese from bugs. These cages are called qanniċ or nemusiera, from the word nemusa, for “mosquito.” In the past, shepherds used sea water instead of rennet. Gbejna’s characteristic texture comes from the imprint of cheese molds, small baskets called qaleb, that were traditionally made of dried reeds woven together (today they are usually made of plastic). Gbejna can be eaten plain, used to fill ravioli and homemade pasta, or added to dishes such as soppa tal armla, a traditional Maltese vegetable soup.
Today, very few cheesemakers still use raw milk for gbejna production. Traditional raw milk gbejna may disappear completely as Matla complies with European Union hygiene standards and bans the use of unpasteurised milk and traditional, non-plastic qaleb containers.