From Island to Plate: North Ronaldsay Mutton, Scotland’s First Presidium

Never was there a hardier wee breed than the North Ronaldsay sheep! One of the oldest sheep breeds in Northern Europe and among the most rare in the world, this iconic flock thrives on the island shoreline, hence their sobriquet ‘seaweed sheep.’  According to a Danish investigation of old bones on Orkney, their DNA is 8,000 years old, as old as the origins of island agriculture itself. 

The Orkney Isles are full of Neolithic archaeological sights, food heritage and warm-hearted locals. A very special place: once visited it will always have a place in your heart. The island of North Ronaldsay is the farthest north of the archipelago, where Billy Muir and the islanders work together to bring in ‘pund’ the sheep for harvesting once a year. The rest of the time the sheep follow the tide, be it stormy or calm, midwinter or summer sunshine, wild as heather as we say here in Scotland!

Their meat is one-of-a-kind: dark, gamey and full of flavour but enough from me. Here are four other Cooks Alliance members sharing their experiences in their own words…

Some fabulous news – North Ronaldsay mutton is on our menu again. The last time we were able to get some was a good couple of years ago, and that is a long time to wait. Get your brain ready, it is a real treat for your taste buds…it wasn’t possible to get hold of them for the last few years, as in order to preserve their status they had to be slaughtered on Orkney, and the main Orkney abattoir closed. I’m excited to be able to share a taste of a pure Scottish breed with you that has such a great heritage and here is my recipe for you Fred Berkmiller, l’escargot bleu

North Ronaldsay Sheep on the shore

The tender meat and good fat coverage enriched by their seaweed diet is irresistible. I tend to lightly brine the shoulder, belly and legs then slow cook, usually over night, at this time of year. I season the loin with a powder of fermented wild garlic and seaweed and cook over coals, rendering the fat crisp and meat pink, perfect with some buttery potatoes. Peter McKenna, The Gannet

I can’t tell how happy I am to get the NR mutton. I’ve been trying for a few years now and it always seems to be all sold before reaching me. This has been a highlight of the last year for me! I’m going to breakdown the mutton and I plan on making traditional mutton ham with the shanks, I have apricot wood from the garden last year that I’m going to try for the smoking process. I’m braising the neck and shoulder down to use for our bao buns that we’ve been doing as take away. The main saddle I will aging for 28 days until our opening at Fhior and will create a dish for this on the first menu.The flavour of the meat is so intensely concentrated and full. I was surprised as although I knew there was of course going to be a unique flavour lending to its breed and diet, I assumed it would have been more subtly, but it basically slaps you in the face. Scott Smith, Fhior Restaurant

Stop Press: Fellow Cooks Alliance Member Neil Forbes of Cafe St Honore has also just taken delivery of one that will feature on his menus soon so keep a look out here The quality of North Ronaldsay mutton is unsurpassable with a lovely distribution of fat and a deep red, almost beef-like colour to the meat, and ultimately the taste is wonderful. But most importantly of course, by eating this breed we’re saving it for future generations.

North Ronaldsay Sheep ebooklet

For further information on these amazing sheep and to download the ebook click on the link North Ronaldsay Mutton

Edited by Wendy Barrie

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