by Anton F. Attard

FoodLegends and fables appeal to children and adults alike, and as children grow up to become men and women, they become more and more interested in getting a job. In bygone times getting a job in Gozo only meant learning a trade or a craft. By far the most ancient crafts in Gozo and Malta were farming, fishing, building and quarrying. All the other small crafts revolved around these important industries. Needless to say, Gozitan crafts had a Gozitan flavour.

The cheese making industry is a case in point. Gozitan cheeselets were a little bit larger than those made in Malta. They were made from sheep's milk rather than goat's milk. In Gozo whey is called xorrox. This technical term is unknown in Malta and it is called ilma which, strictly speaking, means water. So much so that gbejniet friski in Malta are known as gbejniet ta' 1-ilma. Cheese forms made of dried stalks of rushes were also manufactured in Gozo and there were three sizes, smallest for Malta, middle sized for Gozo and the largest form for gbejniet tan-naghag an imitation of Sicilian cheese made of heated milk, also very popular in Gozo several decades ago. The cane-worker supplied the cheese hurdles (qnienec) made oflocal dried smaller size reeds. Dried cheeselets (gbejniet moxxi), salted and pepper cheeselets (gbejniet mahsula /gbejniet tal-bzar) would seem to have their origin in the Island of Gozo.

The traditional master-builder used to construct special windows for the drying of cheeselets (twieqi tal-gbejniet) and also small-ventilated rooms (kmamar tal-gbejniet) wherein cheese hurdles were hung. The carpenter made a special mesh (nemusiera) which was kept in place by wooden strips. Such a mesh was made to prevent mosquitoes from entering the cheeselet room through ventilators. The cooper used to make wooden buckets for transporting dried cheeselets to Malta.

Gozitan cheeselets were an important item in our people's diet. Fresh cheeselet (gbejniet friski) could be eaten with bread at breakfast. Mellusa, is curdled milk spread like butter over a piece of bread. It was very popular in the village of Zebbug. A cheeselet on a pancake (gbejna fuq ftira) was also popular when in Gozo several kinds of pancakes (ftajjar), each prepared and sold according to specific occasion throughout the whole year, were important delicacies. Fresh cheeselets were also crushed to make ordinary cheese-cakes (pastizzi) and round cheese-cakes (qassatat) for Easter. In the case of the latter green broad beans were mixed with the filling for the traditional Easter qsaset.

One should mention in this regard, ravioli (ravjul) and fdewwex which were kinds of thin pasta cut in broad ribbon-shaped slices served in milk. In Malta they do have cheese-cakes, round cheese-cakes and ravioli but the filling or stuffing consists of rikotta and not crushed fresh cheeselets as in Gozo.


GrapesGozo is renowned for its delicious nougat made according to a different formula from that of Malta. We still have bankoncini (very probably unknown in Malta) which are sweet biscuits consisting of white of eggs, sugar and ground parboiled peanuts. Genuine Gozo wine was the traditional Gozitan drink. Gozo wine shops were an established institu-tion. Grape producing fields and vineyards are found all over the Island even to this day.

Dried fruits such as dried figs (tin imqadded), and its by-product tin tac-cappa (lumps of figs) as well as dried tomatoes were home-made items of food for many Gozitan families and featured as important Gozo delicacies of bygone years. We also had ghasida, a kind of traditional porridge made of fine Gozo semolina or flour meal. The traditional bowl in which this porridge was prepared was called imghasda.
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