Scientists at the universities of Manchester and York are involved in a ground-breaking project to recreate a long-extinct breed of cow. In medieval times the Orwat, native to the Veneto region of northern Italy, was famed for its rich milk, which was used to make the legendary sciocco di aprile cheese.

Cheesy Orwat

Cheesy Orwat

Building on the success of the Books and Beast project, which has isolated collagen from parchment books and manuscripts, the Manchester-York team has managed to isolate DNA from parchment sheets made from the Orwat. Now, using advanced crystallography techniques, they have succeeded in growing cells of the long-extinct beast.

A scientist

A scientist

The project is funded by the Genetic Engineering Development and Investment Trust (GEDIT) of San Seriffe in California. GEDIT’s CEO, E. Sawyer Cumming, said: “Our ambition is to recreate the Orwat breed. In a few years we hope to manufacture sciocco di aprile cheese for the first time in many centuries. It promises to be a taste sensation. So far, the team has managed to grow the tip of one horn, about an inch long. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. In a couple of months we expect to have a complete horn, and next year, if all goes to plan, we hope to have a whole Orwat.”

Sciocco di aprile was famous in medieval times for its pungent aroma. So much so that the Venetian authorities insisted that the spherical cheeses should be wrapped in red wax, to prevent the offensive odours escaping. Marco Polo is said to have taken dozens of the cheeses as a gift for the Chinese Emperor. As is well known, they did not find favour in the Imperial court. They were stored away and forgotten for many centuries, until 1860, when British troops stumbled across them during the sacking of the Summer Palace. The hardened cheeses with their tough red rinds made ideal substitutes for cricket balls and this is why modern cricket balls are dyed red (source: Wikipedia).

The Orwat project is only the first of several planned by GEDIT, which hopes to apply its genetic engineering expertise to other species. Cumming explained: “Soon we hope to recreate the long-lost Alpine Spaniel.” Watch out for further postings on this shaggy-dog story.