Saturday, June 16, 2018

Unraveling the Mystery of Lamb

Lamb is a very polarizing meat.  When I mention that we sell lamb I usually hear one of three answers:

a.)  I love lamb!
b.)  I've never had lamb.
c.)  I had lamb once and it was terrible!

Let me start by saying that not all lamb is created equal.  For some bizarre reason we always feel compelled to try lamb when it's on restaurant menus.  I can tell you this - we've never liked lamb from a restaurant, even some fairly swanky joints.  We've found it tough and gamy flavored.  After raising lamb for years, we've found out one major key for a great lamb flavor that doesn't overpower you with "earthy flavor" - the age of the lamb.

Lamb conjures up images of cute little baby lambs hopping around green pastures in the spring.  While this is a lamb, the lamb meat available usually comes from an animal that is at least 4 months old, usually older.  Once a sheep is a year old, meat from that animal is called mutton.  I've never had mutton (or at least that's what I'm telling myself), but the older a sheep is, generally the stronger the flavor becomes.  So if you've had tough lamb or very strong tasting lamb it likely came from an older animal.

Globally, there are over 1000 different distinct breeds of sheep.  Some are known for wool quality, such as Merino or Rambouillet.  Some are known for meat quality due to fast growth, such as the Suffolk.   Some are a dual purpose breed that are good for meat and wool, like a Cheviot which produces the wool for tweed fabrics and also grows fairly rapidly for decent meat.  Some breeds have hair instead of wool, which eliminates shearing for the farmer.  And some are even milked to produce delicious feta or Roquefort cheeses.  They are hearty animals that do well in a variety of climates and land conditions which is part of why they have a much more prominent place in the global diet than here in the US.  Per capita, Americans consume less than one pound of lamb per year, where globally the number is over 4 lbs. per year on average.

Lamb does not have be a scary meat reserved for high society functions.  It's more than than the glamorous Frenched rack of lamb at the fancy dinner table.  It can certainly be served at an elegant function but it can also be made into a simple Shepherd's Pie, simmered all day in a crock pot to make tender lamb shanks for a winter's night or even grilled with salt and pepper just like a steak to provide variety for your family's dinner routine.  My goal for this summer is to share some of my favorite uses for lamb and to help you feel like you can be a culinary rock star!  Keep watching for recipes and ideas on how to confidently add lamb into your meals.