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North Ronaldsay is an iconic sheep – the oldest sheep breed in Northern Europe. According to a Danish investigation of bones it is 8 thousand years old. It is absolutely critical we do not lose this Scottish heritage. Champions of North Ronaldsay mutton hold it in high regard. The meat is lean and has a distinct gamey taste. The breed is also renowned for its varying wool colour making it ideal for knitwear.
The North Ronaldsay Sheep are one of only two animals in the world able to subsist entirely on seaweed, leading to its nickname ‘seaweed sheep’. North Ronaldsay sheep have genetically adapted over the centuries to thrive on their foraged seaweed diet that results in an exceptional and unique flavour. It is spicy and a little gamey, highly valued by knowledgeable restaurateurs, chefs and cooks. Terroir, as the French say, is vital to this breed. Sad to say the vast majority of the Scotch Lamb is now cross bred and we rely on the pure bred genebanks such as North Ronaldsay, Hebridean and Native Shetland to not only offer premium products for discerning chefs but also to preserve valuable live genebanks for our future survival and support fragile communities.
The story is fascinating. In 1832 the Laird of North Ronaldsay decided that his pastureland should not be wasted on native sheep and a dyke was built round the island to keep them on the shore and off the land. It was most probably this separation that resulted in the preservation of the North Ronaldsay, as it prevented cross breeding which had been the downfall of other Orkney sheep.
The sheep have a small head, with the ewes having a dished face. Rams are horned and ewes vary. The sheep have a double-layered fleece with a very coarse outer-wool, and an extremely fine, soft inner-wool in a beautiful range of natural hues.
This is a seasonal product but freezes well. Championed by William Muir of North Ronaldsay – more photos to follow