Why Da­mara sheep are so rare

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Feature -

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.

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