Saturday, 16 October 2010

Corsican sheep (Brebis / Pècuri)

I am an absolute sucker for cute baby animals, so I can’t tell you how excited I was this week when the first lambs were born, and I was allowed to go into the field and pet them when they were less than a day old!

The Corsican Brebis (A pècura in Corsican) is a very ancient race of sheep, and are remarkably adapted to their environment. They are comparatively small (35kg on average) which is probably why I am not struck dumb with terror as I am with other larger animals, as I could stamp on one in an emergency.

The brebis have a high resistance to weather, including drought (probably just as well!) and an amazing capacity to sustain themselves from the maquis which covers a huge percentage of the island. However, brebis are a bit like goats and they will eat pretty much everything in sight, so we often see the farmers moving the herds from one field to another where they have stripped it clean!

While taking photos, we spotted a little black dot lying in the field and were worried that one of the newborns hadn’t survived, but as we watched, he struggled to his feet and started bleating for his mummy. Sadly, she wasn’t interested, so as he’d heard us chatting, he realised we’d be the next best thing and wobbled over to us. Ahhh!!

This little white one also got a bit confused – don’t think he’ll have much luck there!

The Corsican brebis are the only European breed with such a variety of colour in their fleeces, and as well as the little black and white one which looked like he was wearing one of those collars they give dogs at the vets, there was a gorgeous little brown one that looked just like Bambi. I nearly had him under my jacket, but I was spotted – drats!

This herd is kept primarily for milk which is turned into cheeses. Here in the south, the average herd is 100-150 sheep producing milk from October to late July which is then turned into ‘Brocciu’ (popular with Corsicans who consider it their National Cheese), and Tome which needs to be matured for a minimum one months to transform itself into a full-bodied cheese.

I have heard of chicken in a basket but when the shepherd put two lambs into a bucket I was slightly worried that they would find themselves in a different type of pot before very long! Fortunately, it was because they’ll be raised by hand. What a shame it won’t be by me :-(

The cheeses are made in the traditional way on the premises as well as olive oil and all sorts of other yummy stuff, and you can buy them direct from the producer at the Bergerie de Monaca, Route de Baracci, 20110.

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