Why Damara sheep are so rare
He has two unrelated rams which means he can use one each on half of his 24 ewes. The first cross have the fat tail, belly and tail free of wool, and come in an assortment of colours and shedding ability (although this often improves as the animal gets older). This F1 first cross is hardier, has better flocking instinct and good meat. An F2 (second) cross will have no need to be shorn, while the third generation (F3) will be closest to a purebred Damara. Although the rams often develop horns (females are polled), Armin does have one male that is naturally polled.
Wandering around these relaxed and unconcerned sheep makes it easy to see their appeal. Their distinctive tail and coloured hair makes them a talking point, but this fat-free sheep breed is close to the perfect animal.
One of my favourite things to do is to show people just how easy it is to turn milk into cheese. At the Whangarei Agricultural and Pastoral Show, it was a marathon effort over two days, demonstrating the cutting of feta and camembert curds, how to press parmesan, and stirring lots and lots of ricotta.
It’s so simple, I invited children to make it with me. There was much excitement as the curds and whey separated like magic.
People are always astonished at the amount of beautiful, fluffy, fresh ricotta you can make from two litres of milk. I used organic, raw cows’ milk, kindly supplied by Wholy Moo, a very new Northland supplier of raw milk to the public. It was stunning milk but you can do exactly the same thing using milk from your supermarket (go for ‘farmhouse’ or ‘blue top’ milk) if you want to make an acidified curd cheese like ricotta.
At the end of the first day I had almost 10 litres of fresh ricotta so it was lucky I had facilities for keeping it cold. I salted half and spooned the quite wet curd into 500g ricotta baskets, put a 1kg weight on top (a 1-litre bottle of water is 1kg) and made ricotta salata. Spectators were interested to see how easy it is to turn a quick, soft cheese like ricotta into a more substantial, harder cheese. The texture is quite chalky and crumbly but the fresh, milky, salty flavour makes a great substitute for feta in salads. It can be cold smoked too for an added savoury burst.
Ricotta is very versatile. If we lived in Italy it would be completely normal to use baskets of it every day in sweet and savoury dishes. Many Italian recipes use ricotta as an ingredient and you can find endless recipe options online.
During my cheese-making classes we make rennetted cheeses, eat a gourmet lunch with a glass of wine, then have a relaxing afternoon chatting while we wait for our hard cheeses to press and drain.
But we also make some 5-minute cheeses like mascarpone and ricotta. These really are cheeses that can be made in minutes but what I’ve found is no-one really knows what to do with their ricotta when they take it home. I now hand out two recipes for using ricotta – a New York baked cheesecake and plum and ricotta cake – and the feedback about desserts which originated half a world away is always good.
A baked cheesecake is a great way to use quantities of ricotta and they can be raw or baked. The firmer, custardy cake texture of a New York-style cheesecake is a winner too – just make your ricotta and you are ready to go. Homemade ricotta is inexpensive so your dessert will be rather grand for very little outlay.