Here is proof, if ever it was needed, that Orkney is indeed a very special place! Orkney Boreray is named the second Slow Food Presidium in the whole of Scotland – the other being the North Ronaldsay sheep, also on Orkney!
Both are primitive small-framed short-tailed heritage sheep but there the similarity ends as they have unique physical appearances and flavours. Unlike the North Ronaldsay, the ancestors of the Orkney Boreray could not access the beach so their flavours are influenced by rough pasture as opposed to the North Ronaldsay diet of seaweed.
Back in 1930 the last inhabitants of St Kilda were evacuated, leaving a landrace flock of sheep on the neighbouring uninhabited, virtually inaccessible, isle of Boreray. Forty years later, a small flock was taken to the mainland and the Orkney Boreray, reared by Jane Cooper on Orkney, are the pure-bred descendants of these original sheep.
Jane says, “The members of the Orkney Boreray Community are both excited and encouraged by the recognition by SFI of our work with Orkney Boreray sheep and the quality of the mutton we produce. This award is most welcome and much appreciated.”
Orkney Boreray Sheep are the last DNA link to the now extinct Scottish Dunface or Old Scottish Shortwool as it is also known, with a probable seasoning of Hebridean Blackface in the distant past. Known as the ‘Lost Flock,’ they were formally identified by RBST in 2017 and placed on a register separate to all other registered Boreray sheep, making them a unique DNA genebank.
Fast forward to summer 2021 and Jane has established a breeding programme and founded the Orkney Boreray Community, currently with 4 established flocks all born and bred on Orkney, a genebank with a common agricultural ethos, setting Standards to ensure high welfare and protection of the flocks and their genetics. Uniquely, the Community has not only farmers but also a butcher, heritage food experts, chefs and weavers, and bone and leather craftsfolk.
Orkney Boreray sheep generally have a cream fleece and grey or black & white face and legs and can have a darker area of wool on the rump. All have a small, slender frame and a double-coat of wool, giving thicker fibres for throws and textiles plus a fine inner wool ideal for making shawls and knitwear. Their meat is delicious and usually eaten as 2-3 year old mutton to allow the meat to mature, available in season exclusively from Jock Gibson of Macbeths Butcher & Game Dealer. Sales are being promoted via Scottish Food Guide, Macbeths and local contacts under the Orkney Boreray brand https://www.orkneyboreray.com
The Presidium will give a strong message of provenance, integrity, food heritage and quality, supporting these dedicated island producers and their very special heritage sheep.
Wendy Barrie, Slow Food Scotland Ark of Taste Coordinator
Photo Orkney Boreray ©JaneCooper