Posted: 12/04/2019

Primitive Project to pinpoint unique flavours of different rare breeds

Primitive breeds including Shetland  and Castlemilk have been wintering alongside Cheviot lambs on Maria Benjamin’s farm

A Cumbrian farmer aims to pin down the distinct flavours of meat from different primitive sheep breeds in a project that could lead to similar work on native breed pigs.

The diminutive size of ancient British sheep types like Soay and Manx Loaghtan, which have never been ‘improved’ by selective breeding, means they are rarely chosen for meat production. 

But those who rear them say their flavour is hard to beat, with each having its own distinct taste.

The Primitive Produce project was the idea of Lake District hill farmer Maria Benjamin, who chairs Cumbria’s Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) support group.

She plans to identify the real flavour differences between breeds by ruling out the effects of the rearing environment, and to unlock their “untapped potential” in retail and restaurants.

RBST has brought together wethers (castrated males) from all seven British primitive breeds – Boreray, Castlemilk Moorit, Manx Loaghtan, North Ronaldsay, Soay, Hebridean and Shetland – to be raised on Benjamin’s upland farm near Coniston. This will remove any impact from different grazing or husbandry.

Benjamin has already found a regular outlet for 18-month old Castlemilk Moorit wether meat, and said: “I’m convinced there’s an opportunity to promote the varied flavours and high quality of primitive hogget [meat from sheep between one and two years old]. 

“To do this, we have to show that the flavour is inherent in the meat, irrespective of the land it is grazed on or the way it is raised.”

RBST field officer Tom Blunt told FFD a similar programme could follow to pinpoint the differences between native pig breeds like Saddlebacks and Large Blacks, whose distinctive flavours are already appreciated by many artisan charcutiers.

“We’re looking forward to seeing the results of this project which is something that, with the support of breeders, could be replicated with our native pig breeds.”

The Primitive Project wethers will grow on until next autumn when speciality butcher Andrew “Farmer” Sharp – an advocate of native breeds and slow-grown meat – will butcher the carcasses ahead of a special tasting event.

This story appeared in the April issue of Fine Food Digest. You can read more on the digital edition here.

Read more of the latest news from Fine Food Digest hereR

Return to the top