Genuinity is something worth encouraging and embracing in our modern ways of life, with so much conglomerate marketing seeping into our daily lives, we often forget about the authentic, age old processes that fill our culture with so much worth. The production of local gbejniet made with fresh sheep’s milk is one of them.
A step inside Ta’ Karmnu Sheep Farm and Shop takes you through the entire process of the gbejna’s production; from raising and milking the sheep to crafting the fresh cheeselets - that make their way to their final home as the key feature in a house made gbejna pie. There’s something magical about a farm to fork experience, and this particular one starts at approximately 4am, daily.
Rural life is precious. Your day wakes you in those precious early hours of the morning, that follows laborious hours of precious love and care for the wellbeing of your flock, to the meticulous production of precious pure artisan items.
“This farm has been in our family for generations, my father grew up here and tended to the farm animals; it’s quite cumbersome to know that my father raised so many animals in the same home that he was raised, born in, even. It’s probably one of the main reasons we churn so much love and affection for this shop and the farm attached to it.”
Ta’ Karmnu Sheep Farm and Shop is situated in Zebbug, in a farmhouse that has, a couple of years back, been remodelled to the state that it is today. With regulations and other considerable factors in mind, the third generation of sheep milk producers in the Aguis family came to life with an edge of modern display and heightened aspirations for exposure.
“This venture took us to Agri Fairs, product testing phases, a huge remodelling project and of course a step into the direction of business owners and not only animal husbandry tenders - although to this day, we still breed, raise, sheer and milk our own sheep; we treat our flocks with respect and a lot of love.
We started off with around 20 sheep, but to date we have around 100 sheep to tend to. This has helped us to increase our milk production to deliver the products that our clients visit us for.”
The setup at Ta’ Karmnu is simple. There’s the farm that houses sheep of different ages, milk sheep that are both local and imported farm animals - there’s also an open area where visitors can catch a glimpse at sheep and their offspring that are the key players in creating their delicious Sunday treat - fresh sheep milk cannoli.
Gbejniet are made with fresh sheep milk, rennet and salt that are treated to specific temperatures, undergo a cooling process and are then left to drip through a basket designed for a specific depth and capacity. They can then be consumed fresh or cured and seasoned further.
“Once we started producing more milk, we were able to broaden our offering to the public. We started off by making gbejniet, the traditional Maltese cheese, made in the traditional Maltese way and prepared three ways. These three variations have a variety of local summonings, il-bojod, tal-bzar and tal-ilma - air dried plain milk cheeselets, peppered cheeselets and raw fresh cheeselets ideal for immediate consumption or as the undeniable favourite in a local soup.”
One of the most beautiful aspects of this procedure is the trade’s dependency on seasons and nature. “Between l-Imnarja and l-Indipendenza, we close the shop - this happens every year during the warmer months, particularly from the 29th of June till the 21st of September, the hottest season in Malta. This is the time when we breed the sheep and allow this period for them to feed their lambs - it’s why the sheep produce their milk after all.”
The roots of their effort in the industry come from many origins; primarily because the family was born and raised into the husbandry and appreciation of the produce but also because of the element of preserving heritage and conserving the sustainability of small batch produce.
Ta’ Karmnu Farm closes their season with a local sweet tied in tradition to the feast of St Joseph - zeppoli, made with fresh local sheep milk. The fried dough balls are made to order and pre-booked by families near and far as a planned pitstop on their leisurely drive. The genuinity of their products is what brings the people back, get excited for the open season and hungry to try new products.
Their seasonal offering stretches out into the festive season too, where baskets of their produce as well as other artisanal vendors’ specialities, are prepared as hampers with a heaping serving of heritage. Throughout the year, whether with a pint of sheep milk ice cream in the summer, an qassata on a quiet Saturday afternoon or a crème caramel as a luscious treat, Ta’ Karmnu Sheep Farm and Shop strives to deliver that touch of old Malta through their genuine products, farm practices and sense of community within society.