Carranzana cara negra (Ovis aries celticus) is a very old Basque sheep breed, named after Carranza valley, in the province of Biscay, where the most important population of this sheep is still located. This breed has spread from the Valle de Carranza (or Karrantza Harana) to the mountains in Cantabria, Asturias, and León. Just 500 of the sheep are left, and a project to recover the breed has been implemented.
This sheep’s defining characteristics are its black head and legs (cara negra means “black face”); the rest of the body is white, with thick, medium-length, relatively straight wool. The head has a distinctive convex profile and the ears are big and floppy. Males have highly developed spiral horns, while females usually lack horns. Females may weigh between 55 and 65 kilograms, males between 80 and 90 kg. This breed is very rustic and well adapted to living in the mountains, on the steep, bright green pastures of Biscay. They often roam free with Basque shepherd dogs guarding them. The herd is taken to the mountains, to an elevation of almost 800 meters, from early May through late December, and they come down to the valley only in winter months to get out of the cold and to reproduce and nurse their lams. Depending on the time of year and accessability of the pastures, herders integrate mountain hay, beet pulp, and some concentrates into their animals’. The ewes are milked twice a day and their milk is used to make a small, semi-seasoned cheese between April and August. The cheese has an herbal flavor because of the wide range of mountain herbs that the sheep eat in the pastures.