HOW IT ALL BEGAN
When one day someone knocked on their door offering them the possibility of keeping a beautiful herd of 60 bordaleira sheep that belonged to an old shepherd, Luis and Lurdes, the owners of Madre de Água, could not imagine the trouble that they were getting into. This is because, after they purchased the sheep, they had to create conditions to accommodate them, which was not an easy task.
Besides not having any experience in this field, there was a lack of staff – the art of herding is almost extinct – so they had to double their efforts. But it was worth it, since the projects were developed more quickly.
They bought more land for pasture, built a sheepfold, a milking parlor and a cheese factory. Today, there are more than 500 sheep and 50 goats producing the best milk and cheese of the region, a reality proven by the awards won. A team of dedicated shepherds take care of the animals, the shepherds begin their activities early morning and finish after sunset.
A hard life, compensated by the love for the profession and the animals, but their priority being the recovery of the art of herding and respect for the shepherd’s profession.
The Bordaleira sheep can be black, white and brown with large expressive eyes and spiral wound horns, a feature common to both sexes. This sheep is considered to have the largest milk capacity, with the main purpose of producing the Serra da Estrela’s cheese (DOP), but also serves the aspect of meat production along with Serra da Estrela’s lamb (PDO). This local breed is increasingly important in the economic and social component of a vast region because it is closely linked to a culture that has endured for centuries.
Serra da Estrela’s Bordaleira sheep is the only existing local breed at Madre de Água, it ensures the quality in the production of the cheese. For this purpose, the pasture is closely followed as well as regular inspections and tests are made to ensure the highest milk quality.
Over the years, the breed has been improved, as far as the milk production goes, considering the renovating of the best males and females of the best milk producing sheep. To make this possible a dairy contrast is made, consisting on the individual measurement of each sheep, once a month in adults for five months and the calved sheep the first time for three months. Madre de Água’s best sheep at 150 days has a production of 514.1 liters of milk with a daily average of 3,022 liters.
At Madre de Água the control of the reproductive cycle is also made, taking into account the best pastures that arise in early autumn. The gestation period of a sheep is 5 months, sending males out on 15 of March. At the beginning of their milk production, the sheep have to be milked twice a day, morning and evening, not exceeding 12 hour pauses. It takes 5 liters of milk to produce 1 kg of cheese.
Without good nutrition it is impossible to invest in native breeds and in their improvement, as in the case of the Bordaleira sheep, so important to the economy of the region. Therefore it is necessary to cultivate highly nutritious forage.
Pastures are the natural and main source of food of the Madre de Água sheep, but also hay and a grain supplement. It is through their food that you get an excellent quality milk and meat.
Shearing and Wool
In addition to its food usage, the Madre de Água sheep also help to boost the tourist industry, since shearing is done every year, an activity where guests can participate. This activity is followed by a regional lunch, where participants can mingle and enjoy the farm’s products.
Shearing usually takes place in May, with the aim to free the sheep from the heat produced by the wool during the warm months, ensuring their growth before the arrival of the cold weather, so they are not left unprotected.
Because it is a short wool, after processing it is used for coarse fabrics such as, the burel. The shepherds costume is made from this fabric- pants, vest and hood – that have to be warm and comfortable to shelter in the winter. Curiously, the interest in burel has grown and it is also gaining an important role in haute couture.
The building designed by Palmer and Greco’s office was a real creativity challenge, given the specificity of the project, and because it was intended to build a cheese factory that would join the tradition of making cheese to new technologies. Two years passed since the concept was stabilized to the project in execution. Today, the cheese factory is fit into this bucolic landscape, using local materials, functional, with excellent working conditions.
The Madre de Água’s cheese factory works with a specialized team, deeply experienced about the art of making cheese. With a daily capacity of 1500 liters, it features a strict control system of production and food security, ensuring high quality products throughout the production process.