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Orkney Boreray Sheep, beloved by Vikings and descended from an extinct breed, wins a rare Slow Food accolade

These sheep link back to the Scottish Dunface

Published: August 26, 2021
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Orkney Boreray Sheep has been named the second Slow Food Presidium in the whole of Scotland.

This heritage breed joins the seaweed-eating North Ronaldsay sheep, also from Orkney, in having this title.

It recognises products from the Slow Food Ark of Taste register that have “special characteristics and above all a collaborative link with their community”.

This small-framed breed, descendants of sheep that were brought to Europe by Neolithic farmers and were prized by Vikings for their thick and insulated “double coated fleece”, has been supported by breeder and advocate, Jane Cooper.

“The members of the Orkney Boreray Community are both excited and encouraged by the recognition by Slow Food International of our work with Orkney Boreray sheep and the quality of the mutton we produce. This recognition is most welcome and much appreciated”, says Cooper.

Back in the Seventies, some Boreray were rescued from the remote island of the same name. They had originally been kept by the inhabitants of St Kilda, which was evacuated in the 1930s. Since then, the remaining feral sheep had survived by grazing on the machair - a fertile, low lying grassy plane.

This flock was transported to Orkney mainland, where most of them were registered by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST).

Some, dubbed The Lost Flock, weren’t. Thanks to the work of Cooper and her breeding programme, their descendants, the Orkney Boreray (originally The Lost Flock), who are now recognised as genetically distinct and have a DNA link to the extinct Scottish Dunface, were registered by the RBST in 2017. 

Scotland's larder: Charlie Buchanan-Smith from The Free Company

They are classed as separate to all other registered Boreray Sheep.

Cooper has founded the Orkney Boreray Community with four established flocks, and a commitment to agro-ecological and high welfare practices, among other things. As well as butchers, this community features craftspeople, chefs and heritage food experts.

The mutton, which is usually eaten when this breed of sheep mature at two to three years old, is available on the menu at Edinburgh’s l’Escargot Bleu and to buy from Macbeth’s Butchers and Game Dealers. Their soft fleece, apparently once used to make sails for Viking long ships, is used by contemporary weavers, Orkney Cloth, and bone, horn and fleece by All Things Heathen.

www.orkneyboreray.comwww.slowfood.org.uk

Scotland's Larder: Jennifer Marshall of Peter Marshall Farms

Gaby Soutar is a lifestyle editor at The Scotsman. She has been reviewing restaurants for The Scotsman Magazine since 2007 and edits the weekly food pages.

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