Rent a house or a Room in Gozo, Malta
The most renowned Local Products of Gozo are the Wild Thyme Honey and the Sheep's Milk Cheeselets.
Besides the Gozo Cheeselets and the Honey there are other Local Products of course. They are prepared according to the season, this is why they are so good, like the extra virgin olive oil or the home-made Gozo wine.
For example the process of making sundried tomatoes cannot start before July/August when the crop ripens. The field is left fallow and in September before the rain comes the tomato patch is fertilised with dry cow and horse manure and then ploughed. The seedlings are left to grow naturally with an occasional sprinkling of sulphur to render them strong and resistant.
Afterwards they are very easy to prepare. The round flat fleshy tomatoes are the best. They are split across the middle and ranged on a wooden plank to dry in the sun after having been generously sprinkled with rough sea salt. When thoroughly dried they become quite thin since the sun has absorbed all their moisture and they have a very strong taste too. They are then tightly packed in glass jars to be eaten in the winter.
Indigenous Gozo Products - Sea salt is produced in the Summer months as well. The salt pans cut in the soft globigerina limestone and dating back from Roman times are filled with clean sea water and the hot sun is allowed to do the rest. When all the sea water has evaporated, the white salt crystals are swept into heaps and collected in strong burlap sacks and stored in the small dug-out dens hewn in the limestone near the salt pans. The sea salt is later packed in small plastic bags to be sold locally and abroad.
The rough sea salt is a basic ingredient in all Maltese and Gozitan dishes and in the making of bread - the Hobza Maltija - as well as in the preparation of pre-packed foods and condiments which today are sold online by Grocery Stores like: Jubilee Foods.
Gozo Local Products - Goat's or Sheep's Milk Cheeselets
In the days of old, Gozo was a land of agriculture and fishing. The people lived on the fruit of the land and the surrounding sea. Many locals nowadays still follow in the footsteps of their forefathers if only on a part-time basis.
For instance, people in the villages of Gozo especially, still rear a few animals including some goats and sheep. The keeping of animals goes hand in hand with working the land. Generally speaking those who till a few patches of land manage to partly sustain their livestock with what they themselves produce, such as hay and clover.
On their part, the animals supply the part-time farmers with eggs, meat, wool and milk. Most of the milk is sold to the Dairy for pasteurization while a portion is kept for home use and to be made into cheeselets. Gozo cheeselets are very popular owing to their delicious flavour. They have been one of the main local products of the Islands since time immemorial.
The milk is heated to 26 degrees and 3 spoonfools of rennet are added to 5 litres (one gallon) of milk. Rennet is produced from the stomach of an 8-week old still suckling lamb immersed in whey. When the whey turns yellowish it becomes rennet (Qtar, in Maltese). When the milk begins to curdle and turns to junket (Baqta, in Maltese) it is transferred into small wicker baskets (Qaleb, in Maltese) which are placed in a large tray to collect the whey. Nowadays the little baskets are made of plastic.
Someone I know has tried his hand at cheese making at home and he is really pleased with the results. He does not keep any sheep or goats in his 2nd floor Flat (lol) but he goes to a nearby farm and buys a gallon of cows' milk. He says that cows' milk is even more nourishing and makes even tastier cheeses.
The cheeselets come in 3 types. The fresh ones are white and soft (gbejniet friski) and may be eaten raw or used in cheese-cakes, ravioli and cooked in other ways as well, such as a casserole of fresh cheeselets, cauliflower, green peas and eggs. Try the Fresh Cheeslets Recipe yourself.
The dried ones are called (gbejniet moxxi) in Maltese. The cheeselets are left to dry inside a small wooden box with shelves covered on all sides with mosquito netting (nemusiera, in Maltese). They become yellowish and may be eaten as is or used as grated cheese.
The cheeselets are also made peppered (gobon mahsul or tal-bzar). When dry they are immersed for some days in a strong mixture of vinegar, oil, salt and pepper.
In the old days, the rustic Gozitan folk survived on a simple meal of bread and cheese and a glass of milk or Gozo wine.
With the local products of Gozo I have to include at least two others, namely the making of fishing nets (nassa) and the making of reed curtains (hasira). They cannot be classed as foodstuffs but are nevertheless very deeply rooted in our folklore.
Local Products - - Gozo Honey.
Beekeeping and honey production is an industry that has likewise been on the island of Gozo for hundreds of years. According to the EU there are 2722 bee hives in Malta and Gozo, but I dare say that there are many more, since some people tend to keep their activities a secret, especially if such activities earn them some money.
Honey production is also a popular countryside activity throughout Europe. Honey is among the most important local products in Gozo. Bees are valued for other products as well, such as propolis, royal jelly and wax, used by Cosmetics firms and in candle production. Bees, especially the Apis Mellifera are also valued for the pollination service that they give. In Europe alone this is worth around 40 million Euro per annum.
How is Honey Produced? - - The honey-bees use their long, tube-like tongues like straws to suck the nectar out of the flowers and they store it in their "honey stomachs". Bees have two stomachs, their normal stomach and a honey stomach which holds almost 70 mg of nectar and when full weighs almost as much as the bee does. Honeybees must visit between 100 and 1500 flowers in order to fill their honey-stomachs.
When they return to the hive they pass the nectar onto other worker bees that suck the nectar from the honeybee's stomach through their mouths. These worker bees "chew" the nectar for about half an hour so that it is both more digestible for the bees and less likely to be attacked by bacteria while it is stored within the hive.
The bees then divide the nectar throughout the honeycombs where water evaporates from it, making it a thicker syrup. The bees fan it with their wings to make it dry faster. Once the honey is thick enough, the bees seal off the cells of the honeycomb with wax. The honey is stored until it is eaten or as often happens is extracted by the bee-keeper. A colony of bees (ferh nahal)in an apiary eats between 120 and 200 pounds of honey in a year.
Harvesting the Honey - - The warm climate of these islands and the autumn/winter rainfall produce enough flowering plants for the bees to produce honey almost all the year round. June 26th, the feast of St Anne, opens the Spring harvest of the honey produced during the months of March, April and May. The spring harvest is made up from nectars of mixed flora among them the clover. This honey is locally referred to as multiflora honey.
In June the garigue areas of our islands, like Ta Cenc are covered with highly aromatic purple shrubs of wild thyme which are very rich in nectar. From these the honey bees produce the well-renowned Wild Thyme honey collected during the Summer harvest in July/August. The thyme honey is distinguished for its aromatic properties and is of a rich golden colour.
An old carob tree in Gozo
The autumn honey is also known as the carob honey and is harvested sometime in November. During the months of September, October and November, the bees turn to the carob trees for their nectar, since after the hot summer days all the flora has shrivelled up and died.
During the cold winter months of December, January and February the bees stay inside the hive huddled together to keep warm. During the cold weather, the honey cristallizes in the jar but you need only to heat it in a 'baine marie' to revert it to its normal condition. Crystallisation is a natural process and should not interfere with our consumption of pure Gozo Honey which is very beneficial towards a healthy life.
Gozo Local Products - - Extra Virgin Olive Oil
It is a proven fact that Olive Oil started being produced since neolithic times and since in Gozo we have the oldest free standing Neolithic Temples in the world, it follows that Gozo is one of the first producer countries.
The Phoenicians, known also as the Caananites who occupied the Maltese islands about 2500 BC are also known to have been famous for producing olive oil. The good thing is that it is still among the much sought after local products and is made today in the traditional way, but using more modern equipment, obviously.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is made by cold pressing the olives and siphoning the greenish oil from the paste. In the old days they had a large round stone trough where they put the olives. The olives were pressed by two heavy hard-stone grinding wheels which turned round inside the trough crushing the olives. The grinding wheels were turned by a donkey or mule going round and round the trough pulling a pole attached to the axis of the wheels.
Gozo local products - - Picking the Olives
Nowadays harvesting is done by an electric comb or branch-shaker. A net is spread under the tree while the branches are violently shaken. It is interesting to note that only the olives that are ripe and ready fall onto the net. However there are people who still prefer to hand-pick the olives.
Olives mature around the months of September or October and may be picked while green. Green olives are not necessarily still unripe. They may be picked while veraison, that is when they are purplish red in colour and also when their skin blackens. The 3 stages of harvesting produce different oils, the green olives giving the most pungent, bitter and grassy smelling kind. The veraison olives produce the greatest amount of oil which is less pungent and bitter, while the black-skinned olives produce the smoothest tasting oil. From all the local products made in Gozo, I think that this is the one that I use almost every day.
Gozo Products - - Extra Virgin Olive Oil - - the Benefits
Olive Oil, especially if it is high-quality and genuine is quite expensive but those who can afford it have some benefits to reap. We should make it a point to use 2 tablespoonfuls of it every day. We can take them with salads, on bruschetta bread or simply on a thick slice of Maltese bread spread with fresh tomato (hobz biz-zejt, in Maltese), a mint leaf or two and salt and pepper.
Gozo extra virgin olive oil, from the first pressing of the olives, contains higher levels of antioxidants, particularly vitamin E and phenols, since it is less processed.
Olive oil is one of the good oils (like fish-oil). Most people do quite well with it since it does not upset the critical omega 6 to omega 3 ratio and most of the fatty acids in olive oil are actually an omega-9 oil which is monounsaturated (whatever this means :-).
Researchers suggest that including olive oil in our diet may offer benefits in terms of colon cancer and heart disease prevention.
Gozo Local Products - - Home-made Wine
Wine has been known to be an essential local product since 500 BC. At Mgarr-Ix-Xini archaelologists have uncovered dug-out basins in the rock which they have identified as primitive wine-presses. Large earthenware amphorae have also been discovered which suggest that the wine was transported on galleys to nearby Sicily.
The main wineries like Marsovin, Emmanuel Delicata Winemaker and several others are situated in Malta but a great quantity of wine is produced in the homes by 'appasionados' both in Malta and Gozo. Most of these wine-lovers do not have their own vines and they have to buy about a ton of grapes every season and proceed to manufacture 'the drink of the Gods' at home in their garage or basement.
This wine is very good, genuine and pure with no added colour or preservatives since these people do it as a hobby and to drink it themselves. It is however possible to find small quantities of home-made wine for sale in the liquor shops at very good prices.
This very evening (February, 21st, 2011) I had the chance to examine the prices of several bottles for sale in one of the wine-shops in Victoria. The label Home-made Wines caught my eye. They were only Euro 4.85 for a one litre bottle and I could not resist buying a couple to drink with my rabbit stew next Sunday.
Gozo local products - - Carob Syrup
The carob tree is a native to the Mediterranean region and has been with us for thousands of years. The pods of the carob tree are most commonly used as fodder for animals, but they are so good and nutritional that only a small quantity is advisable.
Carob syrup was considered of great importance among the list of traditional local products because apart from being delicious as a drink it had great healing powers especially against colds and coughs and sore throat. It is naturally sweet and full of nutrients including iron, phosphorus, magnesium and B-vitamins.
How to Make Carob Syrup (local products prepared at home)
It is very easy actually. Collect or buy some carob pods which have to be dry and shiny black. Grind them into as fine a powder as you can. Mix with sugar and water and simmer until mixture becomes a thick Syrup. Pass through a clean piece of linen or similar into a jar. Let cool and close tightly.
Local Products - Shark Liver Oil - Zejt taz-Zaruna (in Maltese)
It is also known as Aceite de Hígado de Tiburón, Basking Shark Liver Oil, Cetorhinus maximus, Centroporus squamosus, Deep Sea Shark Liver Oil, Dog Fish Liver Oil, Huile de Foie de Requin, Squalene and Sqaulus acanthias. This product has a long history as a folk remedy for various ailments such as sore muscles, warts and skin disease as well as infections and wounds. It is especially effective as an anti-fungal in the cure of thick unhealthy-looking toe-nails and as a relief against arthritis since it penetrates deep into the skin.
Owing to its high content of vitamins and minerals it may also be proved (but this is still being researched) as a cure against Cancer. Today it is possible to purchase shark liver oil at many health food stores. Along with small bottles of processed oil, it is also possible to obtain softgels as well as shark liver capsules. Many people prefer the shark liver softgels and capsules due to the somewhat pungent aroma and taste of the product.
Local Products - - In Gozo it is produced at home in small quantities by a primitive method. The fresh shark liver which may weigh several kilos depending on the size of the shark is put in a fine net and hung in a fly-protected cage in the sun and allowed to drip drain its oil in a large glass container. This process may take a week or longer and when all the oil has finally been extracted, the liver is reduced to the size of a small orange. The oil is then stored in small phials to be used as required.
The oil keeps for years and when first extracted it is whitish. It becomes yellow after 2 years and reddish brown after 5 or more. This pure virgin shark oil is somewhat hard to come by firstly because few sharks are caught in Maltese waters and secondly owing to the messy process of extraction itself.
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Rent a house or a Room in Gozo, Malta