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Malta and its sister island Gozo possess something which very few olive-growing Mediterranean countries can lay claim to – lack of space!
While this doesn’t sound like a notable ingredient for success, it certainly adds to the distinct character of the olives; but we’ll get onto that later, firstly let’s look at these beautiful islands’ relationship with the fruit.
As you’d expect, olives are present in many of the traditional Maltese dishes, from the rich tomato sauces served with the local fish lampuki to the ubiquitous rabbit stews.
Recent archaeological finds have proved that the Romans were producing oil here 2,000 years ago and this has led to an exciting new era in Maltese olive oil.
The ‘Godfather’ of Maltese olive oil has to be Sam Cremona. His estate in the town of Wardija was echoing with the sound of the olive press and I caught up with him while he was extracting the good stuff from the latest batch delivered to him by a local grower.
Sam Cremona’s olive oil press, Malta
“Come and see this,” he said as he walked towards his own olive grove, “you’ll only see this in Malta!” A white olive tree with fruit of such pearlescent beauty that it would have seemed a crime to pick them.
“They would make great oil, but we have so few that it simply would not be worth it.”
This tree holds the key to Sam’s success in gaining recognition for the country’s produce on the global scene. He was up against it, as the olives grown in Malta were generally of Puglian origin or recognised as another country’s olive, so the oil produced wouldn’t be permitted a ‘Maltese Olive Oil’ label in the eyes of those controlling food’s geographical origin, it would have to have been an ‘Italian Olive Oil produced in Malta’.
White olives in Malta
However, several serendipitous archaeological finds and lab tests later, it was proved that two varieties of olive are in fact indigenous to the islands – the white one Sam was showing me in his grove, and the bidni olive. So in 1997 production began on Maltese olive oil.
Now Sam produces up to four tonnes of oil per year from 140 tonnes of olives during the three-month season. That amounts to two tonnes of olives pressed by Sam each working day!
The oil is so good for several reasons, but mainly because of the small island I mentioned at the top of the article. You are never really far from the coast in Malta, this means the briny air from the deep waters of the surrounding Mediterranean blows its saltiness into all produce grown here. This gives everything a satisfying tang in its raw state – including the olives and the grapes and therefore the oil and the wine. But the small island also means transportation times are kept to an absolute minimum; ‘tree to press’ is a matter of hours or even minutes. Freshness is key.
The author taking a taste straight from the olive press
Another fascinating nugget about this indigenous olive is the health benefits – so high in anti-oxidants is this olive that fruit fly eggs cannot survive. Researchers are finding more and more surprising benefits of this olive in the battle against many modern (and ancient) maladies.
To top the visit off, Sam’s elegant Essex-educated wife Matty – a cookbook writer herself – put on an amazing ‘snack’ to give me a taste of the oil. Okay, due to the massively generous portion sizes in Malta a snack roughly translates as ‘meal’. There were sweet, fried slices of pumpkin in oil and mint; olive pesto with the flesh mixed with chilli and fennel; beautiful Maltese bread; glorious sauvignon blanc; brined olives of all hues; and one thing that you just simply cannot match outside of warm climates – tomatoes, sweet and incredible.
Sam Cremona’s beautiful olive oil
Onto Ta Mena, on glorious sister island Gozo. According to owner Joe Spiteri, the olives and the grapes of the Maltese islands have the Goldilocks Factor – the temperate climate is just right, the soils, sunshine, rains are not too hot and not too cold, not too acidic not too alkali.
“I’m not just saying this, as many claim it, but Maltese islands’ olive oil is the best in the world.” Joe adds that this has been partly proved through official blind tastings held by olive oils ‘grandmasters’.
Joe then goes into an elaborate display in showing me how to taste olive oil in the correct fashion. He takes a glass and rubs it fiercely to warm it, he then adds a big slug of his own olive oil before again warming the glass – then he takes the lot down in one big ‘schwiff’.
Joe’s olive oil tasting ritual
‘This is so pure,” he tells me proudly, “so pure that you can do this with it,” before rubbing it into his farm-tanned hide.
Joe is sure the produce is of such high-quality that the only reason the oil (and Malta’s wines) are not more renowned is quite simply a form of prejudice. “We are from Gozo, the produce is Maltese, that can be the only reason we struggle to find an international market!”
To watch the amazing Gennaro Contaldo cooking at Joe’s brilliant agro tourism farm, see below!
RANKING OF THE WORLD'S BEST OLIVE OILS 2019/2020
We are proud to present the ranking of the World's Best Olive Oils 2019/2020, calculated this year from the results of a total of 5 of the currently 7 strictest international extra virgin olive oil competitions. For details on the points scheme applied, please see on the Leading Extra Virging Olive Oil Competitions page.
|RANK||PRODUCER||OLIVE OIL / BRAND||DIPLOMA||COUNTRY||REGION||TOTAL|
|1||Almazaras de la Subbetica SL||Rincon de la Subbetica - Hojiblanca||SPAIN||Andalusia||106|
|2||Az. Agr. Sabino Leone||Don Gioacchino||ITALY||Puglia||94|
|3||Aziende Agricole di Martino Sas||Schinosa La Coratina||ITALY||Puglia||67|
|4||Masoni Becciu di Valentina Deidda||Ispiritu Sardu||ITALY||Sardinia||60|
|5||Az. Agr. Tommaso Masciantonio||Intosso||ITALY||Abruzzo||57|
|7||Trilogia||TRILOGIA CRIOLLA||ARGENTINA||San Juan||57|
|8||Francesca Boni||Olio Traldi Eximius||ITALY||Lazio||56|
|9||Agroland s.a.||Colinas de Garzon Bivarietal||URUGUAY||Maldonado||55|
|10||Azienda Agricola Tommaso Fiore||Olio Infiore Riserva||ITALY||Puglia||55|
|11||Azienda Agricola Donato Conserva||Mimi Blend||ITALY||Puglia||54|
|12||Fraternali Grilli Primo||Uliveto del Fattore Selezione "RODOLFO"||ITALY||Emilia-Romagna||52|
|14||Ntra. Sra. de los Remedios||Oro de Canava||SPAIN||Andalusia||40|
|15||Olis Sole, S.L.||Mas Tarres DOP Siurana||SPAIN||Tarragona||40|
|16||Sociedad Cooperativa Andaluza San Sebastian||Guadalimon||SPAIN||Andalusia||40|
|17||Yihai Kerry Investments Co.Ltd.||Olivoila||CHINA||40|
|18||Aceites Oro Bailen Galgon 99 SL||Casa Juncal||SPAIN||Andalusia||39|
|20||Agricola de Bailen Virgen de Zocueca S.C.A.||Picualia - Reserva||SPAIN||Andalusia||39|
|20||Huilerie Bechir Jarraya||Domaine Um Eljanna||TUNISIA||Sfax||39|
|21||Les Conserves de Meknes||Aicha||MOROCCO||Fés-Meknes||39|
|22||MONINI, S.P.A.||MONINI "MONOCULTIVAR CORATINA"||ITALY||Umbria||39|
|23||Az. Agr. Americo Quattrociocchi||Olivastro Bio||ITALY||Lazio||38|
|24||Oleomorillo, SL, Basilippo||Basilippo Gourmet||SPAIN||Andalusia||38|
|"||SCO De Valdepeñas "Colival"||Valdenvero Arbequina||SPAIN||Castilla La Mancha||38|
Have You Seen The ‘Perla Maltese’, Malta’s Very Rare White Olive?
Malta’s olives are famous the world over. Towns are named after the glorious olive fruit, and the oil that it produces is central to the Mediterranean diet.
Maltese olives are robust and resistant. While about ten cultivars can be found in Malta, only four can be called endemic – the Bidni, the Malti, the Maltese wild oleaster, and the White Olive or ‘Perla Maltese’.
The white olive tree was found to be nearly extinct in Malta, but there are people like Sam Cremona in his Wardija olive nursery who are working hard at growing the amount of white olives in Malta.
“To tell you the truth,” says Sam, “when I saw it the first times I thought it was damaged. Why are these olives white? The Italians told us it might be ‘albino’, but later we learned that these olives were popular in the times of the Knights, and even were exported. We looked after this tree, it had no disease and viruses and we took the first vaccination from it”.
Jamie Oliver even visited Sam’s olive nursery, where he called Sam the “Godfather of Maltese olive oil” and wondered if Maltese olive oil is the best in the world.
When Jamie Oliver saw Sam’s white olive tree, he said the olives were of “of such pearlescent beauty that it would have seemed a crime to pick them.”
“They would make great oil,” replied Sam, “but we have so few that it simply would not be worth it.”
The problem is the rarity of the white olive tree. Sam is promoting vaccinations of the white olive trees to increase their presence in Malta.
“The Italians said they produce the best olive oil, but I think the Maltese environment allows for a greater and fruitier return,” says Sam. “Our sun and longer maturation period are optimal, even for Italian varieties like Frantoio.”
When asked why he had dedicated his life to olives, olive oil, and cultivating the Perla Maltesa – he used to be a gemologist, dealing in diamonds – his answer is simple.
“I’m looking for a health product, primarily. I want to increase the culture,” he says clearly, “I want to make Malta green again through the planting of olive trees. Something that generates money nationally, makes the general appearance of the country better, and is a local product. I’ve been doing my best to save the environment but if the environment is to be saved, it must come from the citizens. The politicians are ready to sell their own mothers and wives out, ahseb u ara what they’d do with the environment.”
6 Beloved Maltese Recipes Made Healthier
January is the perfect time for making small changes in our lives that can make a big impact on our health. When dieting, it’s important to eat balanced, tasty meals to keep you on the right track and prevent you from slipping back into your old habits.
Since Maltese cuisine is so incredibly delicious, not to mention comforting for these chilly Winter months, we thought we’d put a healthy spin on some of the classics. Kul! (geddit?)
1. Qarabagħli Mimli
The Don of all vegetable dishes, qarabagħli mimli or stuffed marrows can easily be shaken-up to produce a healthier dinnertime recipe, even though they’re not all that naughty to begin with. Start by replacing your minced meat with soya mince, which you can buy dried in granules from the wholefoods isle of your local supermarket. It’s so important to cut down on red meat if you want to keep your heart in check.
Soak your soya mince in enough boiling water to cover it and add a pinch of salt and some herbs for flavour. Non veggies can also add half an OXO cube or a teaspoon of Bovril at this stage to really imitate that meaty flavour.
Recreate your traditional recipe exactly the same, but substitute your white rice for brown rice or even quinoa for a protein packed dinner. If you make enough you can have leftovers the next day and be the envy of the whole office!
2. Rabbit Stew
What if I told you rabbit meat is perfect for slimming down? Yep! It’s low fat content and super high levels of protein (twice as much as chicken per ounce!) make it fantastic for building up muscle and cutting down on cholesterol and calories. It’s also rich in vitamins and minerals such as zinc, potassium and iron- which helps against anemia and feelings of weakness, all the better for your next workout.
However, all this goes to pot when you start fractioning in greasy chips and carb-packed pasta. So cook your rabbit in sauce as you normally would and mix it up by complimenting your meat with “good carbs” like a baked sweet potato, a half-serving of white mashed potato or corn on the cob with a side salad. You’ll soon be fitting rabbit into your everyday meal plans.
Today we have some Maltese fast food made at home in no time. Three different qassatat recipes to choose from with the basic ingredients being peas, ricotta and sheep cheeslets. Excellent as a snack or lunch. Hey, we also love them with a cuppa in the afternoon.
- RECIPE 1
- 4 fresh sheep's cheese
- 200g brad beans, skin removed
- 50g godlen raisins
- 1 egg
- golden drop olive oil
- salt and pepper
- acqua e farina pasta sfoglia
- RECIPE 2
- golden drop olive oil
- 1 onion
- 1 tsp curry
- 425g canned peas
- 1 beef cube
- RECIPE 3
- 250g Ricotta
- 2 tbsp Parmesan cheese
- Salt & Petter
- acqua & farina brisee
In a bowl mash the cheese with a fork, add the egg, beans, raisins and seasoning.
Popular street food in Malta
1. Maltese bread
If there’s one type of food that Maltese people abroad miss when they think of home, it’s Maltese bread. Traditionally baked Ħobż tal-Malti has a hard and crunchy crust on the outside and soft and fluffy white bread from the inside, and tastes nothing like a regular loaf of sliced white bread you might be used to from your local supermarket.
This big (or smaller – it comes in different sizes) round loaf of bread is usually bought whole or sliced and is sometimes the star carbohydrate of a dish and other times the mop that helps you get the last bits of that thick, delicious Maltese stew you just can’t get enough of. In fact, it’s served with most meals that allow for ‘mopping’ at the dinner table and is often served in local restaurants to accompany your meal as well.
Most Maltese people talk about the flavour of their bread, to me, as a semi-foreigner, it’s more the texture and the contrast between crunch and soft airy centre that made me fall in love with it.
The one downside is that it doesn’t last for very long. Buy a loaf on one day and it’ll taste stale the next day. That’s not necessarily an issue, though. You can find Maltese bread in every local “minimarket” (the logically smaller size of a supermarket, selling the everyday basics). Traditionally, the village of Qormi is known as the place where the best bakers fire up their ovens, but most local bakers (like Gormina (pron Jor-mina) in St. Paul’s Bay) will have delicious, freshly baked Maltese bread for sale in the morning. (They’ll be a-baking at 5am to serve the early risers). Local grocery shops receive a fresh supply daily, sometimes in the afternoon as well to serve those who like crispy fresh bread for supper.
Prepared for lunch and the most common way that Maltese bread is sold as street food is Ħobż biż-żejt (bread with oil, literally translated) specifically that’s the most popular way in which bread is consumed locally. Sliced Maltese bread with extra virgin olive oil, tomato paste and a pinch of salt and pepper, often dressed up with ingredients like tuna and capers, make for a very tasty snack, particularly so in summer.
Ħobż tal-Malti isn’t the only type of Maltese bread that’s popularly served, though. The ftira is a flat baked, usually portion-sized bread (although bigger varieties are baked as well) that shares its crusty outside with a regular loaf of Maltese bread. It’s a popular option in lunchrooms and is prepared with a variety of local ingredients, often prepared to your tastes.
2. Pastizzi and other savoury pastry snacks
Before McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC came around in Malta in the 1990s, fast food for the Maltese meant walking down to the nearest pastizzeria to grab some super tasty (but also amazingly greasy) savoury snacks, that form the cornerstone of street food in Malta.
The most popular snack are pastizzi – fluffy pastry formed in specific shapes and stuffed with either ricotta cheese or a paste of peas (piżelli in Maltese). You’ll also find the most oily square pizza slices (very tasty and fluffy nevertheless) and typically Maltese snacks like Qassatat (different type of pastry stuffed with cheese, peas and spinach), sausage rolls (you get to choose the cheese-filled type called Wudy, an Italian brand, for an extra dose of evil), Arancini (balls of tomato-flavoured rice with a breaded crust) and Timpana (a popular pasta oven dish).
Fish has always been popular in Malta, being an island where fish is relatively easy to come by in its surrounding waters.
You’ll be able to find all sorts of local fish served fresh daily in local restaurants, but there are specific types of fish that are traditionally more popular among the Maltese.
The first is Lampuka, (a species of dolphin fish also referred to as Mahi-mahi), which is caught seasonally and available as fresh catch during the period of 15th of August (the start date of Lampuki (plural) fishing season in Malta, also a public holiday) through to the end of December. You’ll still be able to taste Lampuka at other times of the year, but it obviously won’t be as fresh. Still worth your while though! Although available as a fried fish, it’s pretty popularly served in pie form as well (Torta tal-Lampuki).
Another type of fish to try is locally caught swordfish, prepared as a dish called Pixxispad (grilled swordfish steak). Fried in olive oil, lemon added – Super tasty. You’ll also find a few species of seabream, seabass and grouper, often cooked grilled on the skin or al cartoccio (Italian term that means something like baked in foil) with olive oil, lemon, salt/pepper seasoning and sometimes capers. They’ll often ask you which method you prefer, in fact.
Although most people outside of Malta probably think of rabbits as “a nice pet for the kids”, in Malta rabbit is more commonly served as a dish, most popularly fried (sometimes with spaghetti with tomato sauce and peas) or as a stew (Stuffat Tal-Fenek). It’s important to note that I’ve never come across anyone in Malta who keeps rabbits as pets until Christmas comes around. Rabbits are bred OR kept as pets (and not consumed).
For most Europeans it’ll be a tough sell, but it really isn’t a big deal unless you’re vegan or vegetarian. It’s actually very tasty. Often likened to chicken by foreigner it’s a rich flavour and it’s understandable why it’s a popular choice among the locals. Dining is sometimes organised to be specifically for rabbit, called a fenkata. Two tips from this foreigner:
- I might be the unluckiest consumer of rabbit on the island, but I regularly find small bone shards and have so far been lucky to escape without a trip to the dentist’s. Take small bites.
- Some restaurants or bars in smaller villages that serve rabbit may serve the dish with kidneys and liver chunks included. If that’s a bridge too far for you as well, you can politely verify whether it’s served that way and asked not to be.
Kinnie is a soft drink produced only in Malta and it’s a bit like Marmite or Bovril if you’re British. Don’t worry, I’m not referring to the flavour, I’m referring to the fact that you either love Kinnie or you hate it.
Personally I really like it, particularly on a hot summer’s day. It’s a drink that has a bittersweet flavour that it owes to a particular type of bitter orange (referred to as Mediterranean chinotto) that you’re unlikely to have tasted before and is definitely worth trying. It’s also a great mixer to try with spirits like vodka and rum and usually tastes best cold.
If you want to go “pro”, there’s a variant called Kinnie Zest, which has a stronger, more pronounced flavour. Similar to the original, just stronger (and either better or worse depending on your personal taste).
Ċisk (pron. Ch-isk) is the most popular (locally brewed) beer that’s an easy, light drink that’s generally liked by foreign beer lovers. Perhaps not the smoothest of beers, it has a gentle flavour and is very refreshing on a warm day.
Although many international brands are available on the island, most will opt to enjoy the local tipple. Aside from the original, low-carb (Cisk Excel), fruity flavoured (Chill Lemon and Chill Berry) and a few other variations are available. The same producers (Farsons) produce different ales as well.
How does olive oil help you lose weight?
Olive oil is made up of about 75 percent oleic acid, a fatty acid proven to work like a strong appetite suppressant. On top of that, research by Brown University’s Mary Flynn, R.D., Ph.D., shows that women on an olive oil–rich diet can actually consume hundreds more calories a day and still lose significantly more weight.
How is that possible? A mountain of studies suggests that both oleic acid and potent polyphenol antioxidants in olive oil help block fat absorption, speed metabolism, improve blood sugar control, soothe internal inflammation linked to countless diseases, and much more.
Olive Oil Recipes
Olive oil has been used in cooking for thousands of years and is one of the cornerstones of the healthy Mediterranean diet. Its versatility and obvious health benefits make it preferable over most other oils in sautéing, browning, stir-frying, as an ingredient in marinades and sauces like mayonnaise and pesto, and as a condiment, drizzled over various dishes. It is just as delicious as a bread dipper: dabbed on a fresh slice of a Maltese Hobza and layered with salt, pepper and garlic.
When it comes to cooking, olive oil should be thought of in the same way as wine is. Different olive oils can and should be used for different purposes. Strong and robust extra virgin olive oils can be used for cooking fish, meat, to make marinades, or to drizzle on strongly flavoured ingredients like peppers or garlic. A medium intensity, well-rounded extra virgin olive oil is great on mozzarella or for bread dipping. It’s delicious in vinaigrette or sprinkled on various steamed vegetables and on baked potatoes. Mellow late harvest oil could be used in baking a cake or to make mayonnaise.
Use a less expensive olive oil that doesn’t have much flavour to fry with and then add a better quality, tastier oil at the table or drizzled over the final dish.
How to avoid contamination when flavouring olive oils
When flavoring olive oils at home which you plan to keep for several months, you must be extremely careful to avoid botulism. While bacteria will not develop in oil, it can grow in water. So absolutely no water should be allowed into the oil. Because of this, flavouring olive oil must exclude the use of fresh herbs, garlic, lemon, etc, unless only small amounts are being infused and are going to be used immediately. Use dried herbs to flavour olive oils that you wish to keep longer than a week. The latter can be stored for up to one year.
Next, we have roast Maltese lamb for the whole family.
Nothing says hearty family meal like a tender leg of lamb and a collection of local veggies straight from the oven. Seasoned with Maltese rosemary and garlic, this dish is equal parts nutritious and nostalgic. Here’s what you’ll need to prepare roast Maltese lamb:
-Salt and pepper
-Leg of lamb
Prep the lamb by seasoning it with garlic, salt and pepper, and massage in some Maltese olive oil. Slice shallots and chop carrots, potatoes and garlic. Line a glass dish with the chopped veggies, and place the leg of lamb on top. Place fresh rosemary on top of the lamb and place the lamb in the oven. Roast in 220 degrees for 30 minutes, and then on 180 degrees for an hour.
Once out of the oven, slice and plate alongside a handful of roast veggies and serve.
1. Homemade tomato sauce
Let's start with the basics. Many traditional Maltese recipes include tomato sauce. So, instead of opting for the canned stuff, how about making it yourself from fresh, local tomatoes?
3 kilos (approx) ripe tomatoes, 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (or you can use spray olive oil to minimise oil use), 1 large onion, 2 garlic cloves, 2 sprigs fresh basil, salt and pepper.
Optional ingredients: 1 bayleaf, pinch of dried oregano.
De-skin the tomatoes by covering them in boiling water for about a minute then rinsing them in cold water. This will ensure the peel comes off easily. Deseed and roughly chop the skinned tomatoes and place them in a large saucepan with the basil (and bay leaves and oregano, if using). Cook until tomatoes are soft.
Meanwhile, fry the onion and garlic in olive oil (or spray version) until the onions are translucent. Add the onion mixture to the tomato mixture. Add some salt and pepper and let it simmer on a low heat until thick (about 2 hours).
Nicky's Maltese Recipes
Ok, hard part over, or so I thought. After watching Mary B for so long on TV, I know fine well that one doesn't want to handle pastry too much, because it warms it up. I gave it a quick knead and rolled it out, but was shocked by how easily it fell apart while trying to lift it into my tart tin. And yes, anyone looking at the pictures with the slightest bit of common sense will know that's not a tart tin, because I don't own one! A cake tin damn well had to do!! But I eventually made it through my ordeal, got the pastry into the tin and did a bit of shaping slash moulding to make it look vaguely even, then popped it into the fridge to get cold again before sticking it into the oven.
|A neatly rolled out pastry case|
|The best alternative to baking beans. black eyed beans|
I was very nervous about the whole blind baking thing. I think I get why it's called that - once you've got the baking paper covering the pastry, you can't really see what colour it's going. However, I was more nervous about using the wrong 'weighing down' ingredients - obviously I don't own baking beans but was slightly worried if I weighed it down with pasta the whole thing would go awry! Luckily I sourced some dried black eyed beans at the back of the cupboard that did the job perfectly and, frankly, I am no longer intimidated by the whole baking blind thing. The pastry came out a treat!! No soggy bottoms in this pie!!
|Not a soggy bottom in sight!|
So, onto the filling itself. Although I love golden syrup, I hate working with the stuff. It's so sticky that it puts me off, and the addition of black treacle didn't help! I didn't have any orange to go into it, so put a couple of tablespoons of apple & mango juice instead of the orange juice. I also didn't think Mary's recipe had enough pecans in, so I finely chopped a small amount of pecans and tossed them into the mixture. Happily, once I'd poured the mixture into the cooling pie pastry and topped with more pecans, it looks like a slightly deeper version of Mary's recipe. Hurrah.