TWO Dorset farmers have put Portland sheep in the spotlight thanks to celebrity chef James Martin.

Steve Gould and Tess Evans were delighted to be contacted from the producers of a new series called ‘James Martin’s Home Comforts’.

The duo have kept Portland Sheep for many years and have been working to conserve this local rare breed which is still classified as ‘at risk’ by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.

Portland hogget and mutton has a history, intrinsically linked with the Isle of Portland and its people.

The new TV show will be aired nationwide next month.

Filming took place at James Martin’s kitchen studio, when Steve and Tess joined the Saturday Kitchen chef while he cooked up a delicious hot pot using a leg of their mutton. The team also paid a visit to Steve and Tess at Steeptonbill Farm in December.

Mr Martin said it was ‘better than the best lamb you’ve ever tasted’ and that he intended to include Portland mutton on his regular Saturday Kitchen programme. Portland mutton has recently been included in the International Slow Foods Movement ‘Forgotten Food’s Ark of Taste’, a register of heritage food products that are considered by the organisation as worthy of conservation. During the nineteenth century Portland meat was feted as a delicacy and sought out by the aristocracy of the time including King George III and his court. This hardy primitive breed lost favour when larger fast growing breeds of sheep were developed which farmers could rear for the lamb market and were more financially rewarding. Portland Sheep grow slowly and their more natural varied grazing contributes to the fine quality and taste of the resulting meat. Steve and Tess sell their meat from their farm shop at Milton Abbas and also deliver to some establishments in the area including The New Inn on Portland.

Portland Sheep have teetered on the brink of extinction, in the 1970s there were only seventy seven breeding ewes throughout the whole country.

Currently, through the dedication of the RBST and the Portland Sheep Breeders Association there are around 2,000 nationwide.