The lambs are bred from sheep with the traits of indigenous Greek mainland breeds (small stature, short but strong legs, strong temperament, resistance to extreme climate conditions, resistance to disease, as well as the ability to walk long distances).
These sheep are either indigenous Greek mainland breeds (Karagouniki, Vlahiki, Sarakatsaniki and Boutsiko, or come from crossing these breeds with each other or with the Greek Hiotiko, Serres, Mytilini & Frizarta breeds. The sheep live in extensive or semi-extensive conditions in the province of Elassona and graze on mountain pastures at high altitudes, above 250 metres.
Arnaki Elassonas meat is only sold fresh as whole or half carcasses, or in pieces, and is available mainly in Larisa, Katerini, Athens, Thessaloniki, and abroad (Italy, Spain and Cyprus).
The meat has a characteristic aroma with a pleasant smell and taste, is tender and succulent, and has a pH of 7.1-7.3, a thin layer of fat, and high levels of linolenic acid. The colour of the meat is white to pale pink, in accordance with Community regulations. The animal belongs to the category of light lambs under Community legislation.
Arnaki Elassonas differs from lowland lambs in a number of ways. It has:
• a lower overall fat percentage,
• a higher proportion of polyunsaturated fatty acids,
• a higher proportion of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, and
• more linolenic acid.
The sheep graze freely on mountain pastures (above 250 metres altitude) with a variety of aromatic and pharmaceutical plants, and on artificial grassland. For 3-5 months, supplementary feed is given, mostly cereals, legumes, vegetables, straw, clover, oilseed products (mainly produced in Elassona province), vitamins and trace elements. The artificial grasslands are fertilised with natural manure from the animals, while the use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers is not permitted.
From birth until slaughter (aged 30 to 45 days), the lambs are fed exclusively on their mother’s milk and are not under any circumstances bottle fed with powdered milk. At night, the lambs live with their mother for as long as they stay on the farm. Lambs over 45 days old cannot be called Arnaki Elassonas even if they are still suckling.
The area is mountainous and semi-mountainous and ranges in altitude from 250 to 2550 metres. Sixty per cent of the area is made up of pastures where a wide variety of grasses, herbs, and aromatic plants grow. The areas of Elassona province that can be grazed include natural pastureland, agricultural land where animal feed is grown, and seasonally grazed land. The natural pastureland is covered by grass, scrub and partially wooded pasture. These areas are chiefly characterised by the great biodiversity of the existing flora, with many aromatic plants. The traditional way of raising the sheep is at the same time integral to
the culture and to the conservation of the natural environment, so much so that over the centuries, it has become an essential part of the daily life of farmers in the province of Elassona.
The carcass of Arnaki Elassonas has uniform muscle coverage and is covered by a thin layer of evenly distributed subcutaneous fat. It is light in weight (6.5-10.5 kg), with a very low fat content (1.5%) compared to other regions (up to 3%). Its colour is white to pale pink, owing to the pH, the age of the animal, its nutrition and its breed. Arnaki Elassonas has tender, succulent meat with a characteristic aroma and a pleasant smell and taste, even at older ages.
The quality characteristics of Elassona lamb are due to the particular soil and climate conditions of the area (mountainous and semi-mountainous land), with rich vegetation and a wide variety of plants (on Mount Olympus alone there are
1700 species of plants), many of them aromatic. The animals that graze the above pastures often cover long distances, leading to a body shape that differs from that of animals at lower altitudes, and especially those that are confined.
The antioxidant substances of many aromatic plants give a special aroma and taste to the milk and especially to the meat of the lambs, which is why they are in great demand among consumers. There is a link between the intensity of the aroma and the linolenic acid (C18:3) found in higher levels in free-grazing animals, while the particular characteristics of the meat are linked with the soil, the vegetation and the microclimate of the Elassona region.
Analysis of fatty acids in lambs in Elassona reveals them to have higher quantities of linolenic acid (C18:3) than lambs in lowland areas. Apart from this, the aroma is also affected by type of nutrition, breed, manner of rearing, age, and the animal’s reproductive status. Apart from this, the aroma is also affected by type of nutrition, breed, manner of rearing, age, and the animal’s reproductive status.
a) the small local breeds of sheep, which are abstemious, resistant, and fully adapted to the particular geographical environment as a result of their regular grazing of natural mountain pastures
b) the mothers’ regular grazing of the pastures
c) the wide variety of vegetation, grasses, herbs and aromatic plants in the pastures
d) the range of altitudes from 250 to 2550 metres
e) the soil and microclimate of the area
f) the kids being fed exclusively on their mother’s milk
g) the high levels of linolenic fatty acid (C18:3)