The Slovenia Times

Bela Krajina sheep breed known for delicious meat

A ram of the native Bela Krajina sheep breed. Photo: Katja Kodba/STA

Characterised by its white fleece with distinctive black spots, the belokranjska pramenka is a sheep breed indigenous to the southern region of Bela Krajina. Appreciated for the delicious meat, it is gaining popularity among breeders and steps have been taken to ensure its genetic purity.

Since long ago, belokranjska pramenka has been been intended mainly for the preparation of lamb roast. Its meat is delicious, juicy and aromatic, which is why it has been fetching higher prices than other breeds.

Once considered critically endangered and still endangered today, the local authentic breed is experiencing a revival with an increasing number of breeders opting to keep it.

Modest and resilient breed

Damijan Vrtin, director of the agriculture and forestry institute in Novo Mesto, says there are currently around 30 breeders in Slovenia who grow around 900 specimens of belokranjska pramenka.

The largest number of breeders can be found in Adlešiči in Bela Krajina, and there are also individual breeders in Goriška in the west, Gorenjska in the northwest and in Prekmurje and Maribor in the northeast.

The institute wants to make sure that they truly rear belokranjska pramenka, and also wants to encourage other breeders to adopt the breed.

It is a modest and resilient breed of sheep, well adapted to the rocky karst pastures and the difficult conditions prevailing in the region, Andrej Kastelic, who heads the breed origin certification project at the institute, said at a recent presentation of the breed in the village of Marindol near Adlešiči.

What makes it special is that it is less fertile than other breeds and that specimens gain weight slower, which in combination with their diet on the scarce pastures of Bela Krajina enhances the quality and flavour of the meat.

Meat characterised by marbling

What makes the lamb meat from this breed different is marbling, which makes the meat juicier, the host of the presentation, farmer Ranko Selakovič, said.

Selakovič, one of the largest breeders, added that the meat does not have the smell characteristic of other sheep breeds.

He himself only uses salt and roasts the lamb for two hours, while making sure that the meat does not get burned too much at the beginning. "You usually serve roasted lamb with onions, lettuce and optionally bread."

At the farm, Selakovič keeps about a hundred sheep, which produce about 80 lambs a year. The greatest risk is posed by wolves and bears, which occasionally visit their pastures, and which have slaughtered a large number of ruminants in the area.

Scottish analysis proves breeders honest

Since the belokranjska pramenka is so special, the institute and its partners are trying to ensure the genetic purity of the breed and prevent farmers from selling other sheep breeds under this specific breed.

The breed origin certification project uses genotyping, which means that "we visit the breeders or restaurant owners that offer belokranjska pramenka roast and take samples from the live animal or roasted meat," said Kastelic.

The samples are sent to Scotland for analysis, and the institute then gets the information on whether this is truly this breed and who the father and mother of the sampled animal are, he said. The procedure costs 25 euros.

A total of 894 samples have been taken as part of the project, which has shown that the breeders "do their job honestly and that the data they send to the authorities is reliable".

The sampling of lamb roasts offered by restaurant owners under the belokranjska pramenka brand has also confirmed that the meat comes from the registered breeders, Kastelic added.

The interest of restaurateurs in putting this kind of lamb roast on their menus is increasing, with the only problem being the seasonal nature of lambing, with most of the lambs suitable for roasting being available during summer.

Their number is significantly lower from September to January. "We are in talks with the breeders for the lambing season to be partially delayed, which can be done, so as to ensure a supply of lambs throughout the year," he said.


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