The bardhoka sheep (delja bardohka) owes its name to its color, as bardhe means white in Albanian language. It is raised for milk, meat, and wool. It is found in the Dukagjini region of Kosovo and in neighboring parts of northeastern Albania, particularly the Tropoja and Has districts
of Kukës County. This mountainous area is rich with vegetation and wildlife. The significant elevation, highly varied terrain, and presence of alpine pastures make Tropoja District especially well suited to sheep and goat pastoralism.
Also known as delja e bardhë e Dukagjinit (“Dukagjini white sheep”), this breed is completely white. It has relatively loose, straight wool that grows to 20 cm long. It has a short, wide head with a straight profile. Ewes have small horns, while rams have pronounced, strong, spiraled horns. The forehead is woolly and there is a tuft of wool between the ears. Ewes weigh about 45 kg, and rams 53 about 60 kg. The birth weight of the lambs varies from 2.5 to 3 kg; they have usually reached a weight of 15 kg by the time they stop suckling.
In addition to the bardhoka breed, the Dukagjini region of Kosovo is also home to the highly endangered balusha sheep, a dark-headed, dark -legged white breed that is assumed to be a relative of the bardhoka.
Bardhoka milk is used to produce cheese, yogurt, gjiza, and butter (in this part of Albania, butter and lard have traditionally been the main kinds of fat used to make dishes such as byrek and fli). Cheese is preserved in brine, while butter is simply stored in places with low humidity. Fresh butter is often clarified, by melting it and removing the white foam that forms on top during boiling, in order to make it more shelf stable.
Bardhoka sheep meat can be dried and stored in cool places; it can also be smoked. It is traditionally served with beans, cabbage, and other vegetables. The meat can be boiled or roasted or baked in clay pots. Roasted sheep meat is usually prepared for important occasions such as births, weddings, and funerals.
The preparation of all the daily dishes and dairy production, from milking the sheep to making cheese, are traditionally considered women’s tasks, while spit-roasting a lamb is considered a man’s job, as it requires hours of managing the fire and roasting in the open air.
Together with the goats, sheep were traditionally the main source of food for mountain dwellers in Dukagjini and Kukës, and were vital to the local economy. There are many folk songs that speak of bardhoka sheep, sung by the rhapsodists of these regions and accompanied by a musical instrument called cifteli or lahute. Ram’s horns were used to make knife handles, or placed on the fence or door to ward off the evil eye.
Sheep meat and dairy products are still consumed by the locals, and these products are rarely sold to processing facilities, as it is members of the household or village who oversee the entire production chain. Meat and dairy products are available in village markets, mainly on Saturdays.