Bringing a heritage breed back from the brink
The Manchego is one of the iconic breeds of sheep in Spain, a country that has long been famous for its sheep industry. There are two variants of Manchego sheep, a larger white variety and a smaller black one. In the middle of the last century, the black Manchegos could be found pasturing throughout central Spain, but farmers began phasing them out because of their smaller size and lack of milk production in comparison with their larger, white cousins.
By the start of the 21st century, the black Manchego sheep were almost extinct. That’s when a small group of farmers decided to resuscitate the breed. There were once fewer than 1,000 black Manchegos extant. Now, thanks to the efforts of a small handful of farms in La Mancha there are an estimated 10,000 black Manchegos in Central Spain.
One of those farms belongs to the Parra family. They have around 1,300 of these special animals on their property in the province of Cuenca and are undertaking an aggressive breeding program to expand the herd in a genetically sensitive way. The land the sheep graze is entirely Organic and the Parra family make Organic wine, wheat, garlic and truffles in addition to their Organic Queso Manchego. In addition to providing milk for the cheese, the little black sheep also fertilize the farm and vineyard.
But the most important thing about the black sheep is their milk. It’s creamier, more complex, sweeter and more flavorful than the milk of the white Manchego variety and that makes for the beautiful Oveja Negra Organic Manchego cheese we all enjoy.