Sheep have been farmed for at least ten centuries along the coast of the North Sea, from Belgium to Denmark, in the area historically known as Frisia. In paintings by Flemish painters from the 15th to the 17th centuries, the flocks are often depicted against a background of splendid agrarian landscapes, testifying the fact that they were a common presence on farms. The sheep were raised for their wool, but also their meat and milk. Indeed, sheep were often known as “the poor man’s cow.”
Over the past 50 years, however, their popularity has declined, and native breeds with centuries of history behind them are now on the verge of extinction. One of the oldest breeds, recognizable in the panel “The Adoration of the Lamb of God” in Jan and Hubert van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece, is the Melkshaap (milk sheep in Dutch). The breed is registered under the name “Friesian-Zeeland”, but there are two genealogical registers: one for the Friesian and one for the Zeeland. This is because over time the original stock has differentiated itself slightly at a genetic level in the two regions where the breed is still farmed (Frisia and Zeeland), even though to the eye they look identical.
The Dutch milk sheep is large and has a white fleece. It has a long, thin neck and can be recognized by its slightly squashed nose and long, hairless tail reaching to its ankles. A very fertile breed, the ewes often have multiple pregnancies. The breed is very suited to the damp, cold environment along the North Sea coast. Its most significant characteristic however is its very high milk production; the highest in the world (around 500 liters of milk per lactation cycle, reaching 500 to 700 liters in intensive farms, as opposed to the average of around 350 to 400 liters). For this reason, over the centuries the breed has been exported to various parts of the world. However as it is a delicate breed, not suited to grazing in difficult, uneven terrain, it never proved hugely successful.
The Presidium was established to safeguard the Friesian Zeeland Melkshaap, uniting all the farmers who make raw-milk cheeses from its milk. The farmers make both soft and hard cheeses, usually in small, round forms, weighing between 500 grams and a kilo. Some producers also make yogurt and ice cream. Almost all sell directly from their farms or at small local markets.
Parts of Frisia (northeastern Holland) and Zeeland (southwestern Holland)
Freek Atema & Ellen Stam
7245 VE Exel (bij Lochem)
Tel. +31 573421319
Adriaan Antonis & Nelleke Meersma
3886 MR Garderen
Tel. +31 577407177
Ruud & Coriene Timmermans
5126 PX Gilze
Tel. +31 161452096 - 683523729
9293 LR Kollumerpomp
Tel.+31 511408817 - 627284612
Tel. +31 614993055