As I stood in the crisp air and bright sun of a Portuguese farm with the other Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences students, a single question popped into my mind. We were learning about the Churra da Terra Quente sheep breed, an indigenous and endangered animal with tangled wool and long, dirty tails. They were a rough-looking lot, but watched us curiously and weren’t as shy as other sheep I’ve unwittingly terrified just by standing by them. Some scratched their dirty wool on dry tree trunks, and others flopped down onto the dry soil that was bereft of rain for 4 ½ months, unconsciously dirtying themselves even more. They had curly horns like trofiette pasta. I got the impression that they were happy, or content, to be out in the sun watching us watching them.
In an indigenous flock – or group, or pack, or what-have-you – the purity of the breed is kept by inbreeding. In dogs, I know this leads to some odd character traits: Dalmations, for example, can be suddenly temperamental; my family’s Vizsla at times suffered anxiety and, strangely for a dog, psychological problems – and was also, of course, the most intelligent dog on earth.