The Istrian sheep is also known as Carsolina or Dalmatian-Karst. The sheep can be found in the Northern Adriatic, Italian, Slovenian, and Croatian Karst Plateau. It is the symbol of Istria, and has long been bred in the communities of this region.
The origin of the breed remains still unclear however, one of the most probable theories suggests that the Istrian breed derives from crossbreeding of Italian livestock with sheep from the Balkans mainly brought by Dacian community. They arrived at Carso because of the Ottoman invasion in the seventeenth century. The Istrian sheep was widely raised until the Second World War, however, after that its population significantly dropped. From 1961 to 1983, the herd decreased from 10 000 to 250 animals. Due to the endangered status, since 1989 the Istrian sheep has been included in the Protection programme of autochthonous breeds in Croatia. Today, around 1800 sheep have been registered.
Istrian sheep belongs to the group of the most robust Pramenka sheep in Croatia, which is proved by the fact that ewes can reach up to 70 kg, and rams up to 100 kg. The head is medium large with convex profile line. The ears are shapely and well moveable. The neck is long and lean, chest ample, with slender ribs and poor muscles. The back is long and pelvis not wide. The upper side of the back and neck are covered by fleece, while the belly, legs and face are covered with short hair. They have an exceptionally long tail (which is often cut at an early age). Thanks to the strong legs, they can perfectly adapt to the difficult environmental conditions. The colour of the Istrian sheep is often brindled, although there are black sheep and white. On the head the white and black colour also appear in different proportions. The head could be completely black with white marks or white with black marks or even dark with white blaze down the forehead.
The Istrian sheep is predominantly used for milk production at making full fat cheese. It has a grainy texture so it does not become creamy in the mouth but it keeps the granular flaking. The intense taste and slightly pungency depend on the ageing duration. Besides, full fat cheese manufacture, the Istrian sheep milk is also used for fresh ricotta cheese. It is characterised by strong hay aroma, creamy texture and pleasant melting capability.
Moreover, a young lamb of Istrian sheep is a traditional Easter meal in Istria Usually lamb from Istrian sheep is used in stews or prepared under the bell with potatoes (čripnja).