Malta Food & Wine Tour

Pretty much every place we have been so far we have scoped out a tour of some sort that involves food and wine (or sake when in Japan!). We figured we may as well keep the trend going while in Malta.

Empowering the Local Rural Community

We booked the “Food & Wine Rural Experience” with an organization named Merill (http://www.merillecotours.com), which is focused on creating awareness of local agriculture and empowering the rural community of Malta. One way they do this is by providing eco-tours where guests have the opportunity to meet local farmers, breeders and artisans…very often at locations tourists otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to visit.

With this in mind, our tour focused on visiting shops and eateries using local ingredients, as well as farms and vineyards/wineries practicing sustainable methods.

Let’s Start the Tour!

Our tour began with curbside pick-up at our AirBnB in the town of Gzira, followed by a short ride to pick up several other guests before heading to our first stop in Rabat. Along the way our main tour guide, Nadia, provided some history regarding monuments, churches, and other landmarks. 

Merill Food & Wine Rural Experience Review - Malta - RTWreset.com
Nadia, our guide, was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic.
Merill Food & Wine Rural Experience Review - Malta - RTWreset.com
We learned that one of the organization's goals is to encourage Malta’s younger generation to become farmers, breeders and artisans to keep these collapsing trades alive.
USA Reunion

Once in Rabat we met up with the rest of the guests and a second tour guide, Yasmin. This brought the total number of guests to twelve (the max allowed on this tour is fourteen). Much to our surprise, the majority of the guests (9 of 12) were American like us. The other three consisted of a local guest house owner looking at the tour as a potential experience to suggest to his guests and a couple from Scotland.

This was the first time we had been around this many Americans since we started our RTW reset. It actually was a bit odd at first. 

St. Dominic’s Convent

On the way to our first bite of local cuisine we stopped at St. Dominic’s Covent. While there, we visited a chapel which houses the replica of a small Virgin Mary statue. The original statue is said to have wept blood-stained tears in 1999. St. Dominic’s Convent also boasts a beautiful little garden which was full of fruiting orange and lemon trees. 

Merill Food & Wine Rural Experience Review - Malta - RTWreset.com
This garden at St. Dominic's Convent was used in Game of Thrones as the Red Keep Garden. Poor Ned Stark, things really started going south after this place.

Pastizzi

The first thing on the menu, pastizzi! This was exciting for us to try. Our friend who suggested we visit Malta because of her family ties here told us that we MUST try the pastizzi. Pastizzi are savory pastries traditionally filled with ricotta or peas. They were delicious! 

While at this eatery we also tried Kinnie, which is a soft drink made from bitter oranges and wormwood extract. Not everyone liked it, but we did (and we’re not soda drinkers) because to us it tasted like bitters you would use in a cocktail. 

Merill Food & Wine Rural Experience Review - Malta - RTWreset.com
The open topped one is ricotta and the closed top one is pea.
Merill Food & Wine Rural Experience Review - Malta - RTWreset.com
Both of us preferred the pea variety.
Merill Food & Wine Rural Experience Review - Malta - RTWreset.com
The local guys were very nice and helped move the tables so our large group could fit. Notice the photos of Elvis and Marilyn on the wall.

Maltese Sesame Biscuits

After a quick tea/coffee we moved on to our next stop, Falzon Bakery, just a short walk down the street. Here we got a firsthand look at them making Maltese sesame biscuits. Made either soft (using yeast as a rising agent) or hard (no yeast) and sprinkled with sesame seeds, these biscuits have a unique spice flavor…perhaps clove and anise? 

Merill Food & Wine Rural Experience Review - Malta - RTWreset.com
These were set aside on a rack to proof before baking.
Merill Food & Wine Rural Experience Review - Malta - RTWreset.com
You can't tell, but this oven was at least 30 feet deep.
Merill Food & Wine Rural Experience Review - Malta - RTWreset.com
Look at the crust on this bread.

The Maltese Countryside

Time to head to the country. On our way we made a quick detour to admire the beauty at Dingli Cliffs. This is the highest point in Malta at 250 meters above sea level, which doesn’t sound like much, but proved to be high enough to provide spectacular views.

Merill Food & Wine Rural Experience Review - Malta - RTWreset.com
The view from Dingli Cliffs - 250 meters above sea level.
Merill Food & Wine Rural Experience Review - Malta - RTWreset.com
The Pharaoh Hound is a Maltese breed of dog and the national dog of Malta.
Merill Food & Wine Rural Experience Review - Malta - RTWreset.com
The majority of cats that we've seen around Malta are white and orange like this fella.

MAR CASAR Winery

The rural areas Malta were gorgeous, with lush green hillsides that were terraced using limestone walls to prevent soil runoff and provide areas for agriculture, such as wineries like our next stop on the tour. MAR CASAR winery is owned and operated by Mark Casar who was born in Valletta, Malta. He wanted to produce a more natural wine with minimal sulphites (sulfites) due to his sensitivity to them, which gave him headaches.

Merill Food & Wine Rural Experience Review - Malta - RTWreset.com
The grapes have some of the best views on the island.
Merill Food & Wine Rural Experience Review - Malta - RTWreset.com
Mark Casar, owner or MAR CASAR winery.

Mark uses a method known as Qvevri, which is common in the country of Georgia. This method uses clay vessels which are buried to help maintain optimal temperature and conditions for fermentation. Along with this, Mark stated he keeps the use of sulphites low by keeping the pips (seeds) of the grapes in during the wine making process, which naturally have antioxidant and antibacterial components.

After a brief tour of the winery we all sat down for a sampling of MAR CASAR wine, olives grown on the property and local cheese.

Merill Food & Wine Rural Experience Review - Malta - RTWreset.com
Mark uses Georgian clay fermentation tanks.
Merill Food & Wine Rural Experience Review - Malta - RTWreset.com
Local nibbles to accompany the wine tasting.
Merill Food & Wine Rural Experience Review - Malta - RTWreset.com
The golden color of his chardonnay comes from fermenting the grape juice with skin contact. It almost looks like olive oil.

Tal-Pespus Sheep Farm

Next we went to a local farm to sample some amazing cheese made from sheep’s milk. First, we met some of the livestock and learned that the farmer keeps goats, in addition to the sheep, to provide supplemental milk to the lambs when needed. 

Merill Food & Wine Rural Experience Review - Malta - RTWreset.com
This lovely gentleman, Mario, showed us his farm and animals.
Merill Food & Wine Rural Experience Review - Malta - RTWreset.com
Rachel made a new friend.
Ġbejniet Cheese

There were three variation of Ġbejniet, depending on the length of time it was allowed to cure. The first was a very soft fresh cheese, almost like ricotta but smoother, that sets within a few hours. The second was the soft cheese which is place on the roof of the building under a netting and allowed to dry out for 2-3 days. This was a bit like a parmesan but milder. The third variation was the hard cheese dunked in a mixture of vinegar and black pepper.

All three were very tasty! We honestly couldn’t pick our favorite and could eat a ton of any of them.

Merill Food & Wine Rural Experience Review - Malta - RTWreset.com
Pete was watched closely by Grace, the cheesemaker herself, when trying the Ġbejniet.
Merill Food & Wine Rural Experience Review - Malta - RTWreset.com
Yummy! More, please!

Olive Farm & Rustic Lunch

The last culinary stop on our tour was an olive farm set up on a hillside with beautiful views. Here we not only sampled their olives, but also their olive oil as part of a traditional farmer’s lunch. Included was bread from the Falzon Bakery that we had visited earlier in the day, various toppings for the bread like traditional Maltese tomato spread (known as kunserva), capers, tomatoes and peppers, and more of the fantastic sheep’s milk cheese. We also enjoyed local wine, coffee, fresh fruit and traditional Maltese village biscuits (a type of cookie). It was a great way to end the day. 

Merill Food & Wine Rural Experience Review - Malta - RTWreset.com
Merill Food & Wine Rural Experience Review - Malta - RTWreset.com
Merill Food & Wine Rural Experience Review - Malta - RTWreset.com

A Lovely Day

Full and happy, we ended our tour with a van ride back to our Airbnb. The day was a terrific blend of education, meeting local artisans and farmers, and tasting some amazing food. If anyone is looking for a great experience while in Malta, we can’t recommend Merill’s Food & Wine Rural Experience enough!

Click here for all of our Malta-related posts.

Merill Food & Wine Rural Experience Review - Malta - RTWreset.com
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2 Comments

Stefan (BSqB) · January 22, 2019 at 11:18 am

Enjoyed reading your Malta posts! We only had two days, one in Gozo, one in Valletta. You guys saw so much more!!!

    Peter & Rachel · January 22, 2019 at 2:58 pm

    Thanks! This tour was amazing! We feel pretty fortunate with the time we had here – 7 nights on Malta and 5 nights on Gozo. For us, 2 weeks was the perfect amount of time to explore. Safe travels!

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