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The production of cheeselets in Malta dates back to several centuries; evidence suggests that cheeselets were produced and consumed as a staple food more than five hundred years ago. In that era, around 90% of all milk supplied to the population was derived from sheep and goats. This profuse and intensive breeding had left its toll not solely on local environmental resources as a result of the intensive grazing of the endemic flora, but also on the health of the inhabitants in terms of what later became to be termed  ‘Malta Fever’ or ‘Maltese Fever’ (Brucellosis).
Brucellosis, also called Gibraltar fever, Malta fever, Maltese fever, Mediterranean fever, Rock fever, or undulant fever is a zoonotic illness caused by ingestion of unpasteurized and unsterile milk or meat of infected animals or close contact with their secretions has alarmed the population and led to the reduced consumption of  cheeselets from unpasteurised milk .
The British rule from 1814 and 1964, regularly impinged on the Maltese food culture, food hygiene and food manufacturing practices, enforcing practices such as pasteurization and sterilization for milk intended for human consumption. Imported tinned milk and powdered milk consumption was fast replacing fresh milk consumption and a milk pasteurisation plant was set up in 1938.
Yet for many years milk intended to be used for the production of cheeselets was not heat treated, until recently. The reduction in incidence of brucellosis in humans from this source is mainly attributed by the introduction of animal vaccines and herd health management. Notwithstanding, the population still associates the consumptions of fresh maltese cheeselets using unpasteurised milk to risks of infection and increasingly opt for cheese produced from pasteurized milk.

Heat treatment and use of imported reagents (chymosin) have now been standardizing the preparation method such that the diversity (at least in terms of organoleptic attributes and other physical characteristics such as consistency) has been somewhat restricted. Diversity in organoleptic properties is usually attributed to the mix of milk used, e.g. pure sheep milk versus  commercially prepared cow’s milk cheeselets, and some may even mix sheep, cow’s and goat’s milk in certain amounts and proportions. Thus the truly traditional product is progressively being lost.

Today there are mainly two categories of cheeselets produced in Malta. One category refers to the fresh (water) cheeselets, which are sold within 3 days of production (coagulation). There are two products under this category namely fresh cheeselets (normal type) and salted fresh cheeselets (same preparation method but sprinkled with salt before dispatch). The other category refers to the dried (or aged) cheeselets. These are either produced from fresh cheeselets which are directly placed after production in a dedicated dryer; else they are produced from the return (unsold) stock of fresh cheeselet stock from the retailer, generally after 3-5days. There are 2 types of dried cheeselets namely the peppered (seasoned) ones and the plain (hard) ones. Recently a third variety of being produced in which the cheeselet is garnished with herbs such as chives, onions and pepperoncino.


Historically the ġbejna was made from raw sheep milk since it contains a high percentage of milk solids, an ideal characteristic for cheese production due to the greater yields obtained. Coagulation was induced through natural rennet (qtar), produced by mixing whey (xorrox) in the unweaned stomachs of lambs. This was then added to milk in adequate quantities to form a curd (baqta). Cheeselets were moulded into shape using containers made up from dried summar, a locally-growing sharp rush. To produce dried cheeselets, the fresh ones were placed in a qannic or qafas, a wooden, meshed framework constructed out of reed wood, and hanged from the roof of well-ventilated roofs or else placed directly on the roof; the qannic was covered with a special mosquito net to limit transmission of disease. 



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