Julia Child walked up behind me, and looked over the buffet table laden with sliced lamb roasts. "Ooohed," she cooed in that famous weird voice. "That's not lamb, that's mutton!" She turned and looked at me, and asked, "Can't you smell the fat?"
She then leaned in and whispered, "Americans just don't know that lamb is supposed to be harvested while young, while still small and tender." Julia had taken a shine to me at this food writer's conference because I am six feet two, the height she used to be, and wore big shoes like she did. I was just in awe, struck by her consummate interest and passion for foods, in her late 80s. I wanna be like her when I grow up!
I wish I could have introduced Julia to Craig Rogers, the shepherd presiding over a flock of 600 Texel and Katahdin blended sheep, bred for their fat. His sheep graze on rye, tasty white and red clover, and timothy or orchard grass seeded on rolling hills that butt up next to the Blue Ridge mountains in Patrick Springs in southwest Virginia, and are kept in line with border collies that Rogers breeds and competes. Thus the name of his farm - Border Springs Farm.
CRAIG ROGERS, SHEPHERD, PhD
He's such a jolly fellow who truly loves what he's doing that I refer to him as "Mr. Rogers" in THE NEW BLUE RIDGE COOKBOOK. But Dr. Rogers is more like it, as he is a former dean of engineering. He and his wife, Joan, bought the farm for horses when he got a job at VA Tech. On campus one day, they both watched a demo with border collies, and well, a dog or two was brought to the farm. To compete, these super smart dogs need something to herd, so thus, six sheep joined the farm. But as Craig says, his competitive spirit got in the way. The more sheep trainers had, the better their dogs did, and so more sheep were added.
But then what to do with all those sheep?
Well, why not raise them for food?
BRED FOR FAT
Julia Child would have loved the lamb from Border Springs Farm, especially their fat.
Craig sought out breeds that would produce a good fat profile and yet have a mild flavor. He like the Katahdin breed because they shed their wool and thus he would not have to shear them. They "...don't have a lot of lanolin, which is where the musky taste comes from in the fat. But the meat tastes too mild," he said in a recent Washington Post profile. So they are sired by Texels, who provide an earthy flavor.
Their offspring are weaned naturally, then grass-fed on that gourmet salad bar Craig re-seeds every other year. They're slaughtered at between seven and 10 months, when they are just under 100 pounds.
Their meat is just fabulous. It's full of flavor that's sweet and not at all muttony, and nicely marbled with a mild, creamy fat. Craig says the thick layer of fat on the racks are used by some chefs to make bacon! And unlike some pasture-raised meat, it is not so lean that it requires slow and low cooking. He takes exception to that general rule, and says that other farmers must not be providing good grasses for their animals.
Notable chefs in New York, Washington DC, Richmond, Atlanta and other Southern cities receive lamb from Border Springs Farm, some hand-delivered by Craig. You may also order from his website, www.borderspringsfarm.com
LAMBS ARE JUST TOO CUTE
Yes, lambs are cute, as well as delicious. So how can we rectify our human consumption?
Craig's farm and lamb meat are Animal Welfare Approved, which means the animals are treated humanely at all times. The lambs at Border Springs Farm are treated with respect and lovingly attended. Happy animals make good meat, Craig says. And he and Joan bring lambs into their kitchen and bottle-feed those rejected by their mothers. Those with names become pets. Note that Joan is a vegetarian.
As the Native Americans did, it behooves us to give thanks and our respect to those animals sacrificed for us.
OUR BLUE RIDGE
Craig appeared this week on Roanoke's WSLS 10 noontime show, OUR BLUE RIDGE. See video footage of his gorgeous farm, and his thoughtful comments.
A food writer told me recently that Craig loves to cook as much as he does raising his lamb and training his dogs. And it's true, he says with a laugh. He shared recipes for lamb burgers and lamb meatloaf that are just dynamite in THE NEW BLUE RIDGE COOKBOOK.
At the bottom of the taping below, you'll find his recipe for his version of rack of lamb, as well as mine. Craig sears his rack, then finishes it by roasting in the oven.
Watch me on the same segment of OUR BLUE RIDGE showing how to execute Craig's recipe.
GRILLING A RACK OF LAMB
Here's our favorite way of preparing a rack of lamb, by grilling. First, the meaty part is rubbed with olive oil, then coated with chopped herbs and garlic, and set aside to marinate before grilling. RECIPE FOLLOWS!
GRILLED RACK OF LAMB
© Elizabeth Wiegand, author THE NEW BLUE RIDGE COOKBOOK
1 rack of lamb, 8 frenched ribs
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or oregano
1 to 2 tablespoons minced garlic, or to taste
freshly ground pepper
1. Preheat charcoal or gas grill.
2. Coat lamb with olive oil.
3. Mix herbs and garlic together on a cutting board or plate, then press both sides of the lamb rack in the mixture.
4. Cut small squares of aluminum foil, and wrap the end of each exposed bone to prevent charring.
5. Let lamb sit at room temperature for about an hour, or marinate in herb mixture in the refrigerator for up to six hours.
6. Place lamb on grill, fat side down, and cook until nicely browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Watch for fat flare-ups. Turn and cook until a thermometer reads about 130 for medium rare (the best temp for lamb!), for another 8 to 10 minutes.
7. Remove lamb from grill and allow to sit for about 5 minutes. Slice between the bones, and serve.
YIELD: 4 servings (2 slices each)