WOOSTER, Ohio — When Don Brown heard about a grant made possible by the American Lamb Board he took a chance and filled out an application. The result was an $800 grant which the Ohio Heartland Sheep Improvement Association used to introduce consumers to the taste of lamb.
Funds from the grant were used to purchase lamb and conduct cooking demonstrations this fall at Local Roots, a Wooster based food co-op.
“We used this grant as an opportunity to bring together the customers and the producers,” said Brown. “I think it raised awareness of Ohio lamb.”
John Anderson and his wife, Betsy, were involved in the project; John manned the grill to cook lamb kabobs and Betsy handed out samples and recipes during the demonstration.
Andersons raise registered Polypays and a few commercial type sheep on their Wayne county farm. Their flock consists of 120 ewes and they are on an accelerated lambing schedule with the flock lambing three times per year.
“We sell mostly breeding stock, but we also feed out and sell some lambs at the Mount Hope and Mount Vernon auctions,” John said.
Betsy said the grant was a way to get people in the area to try lamb.
“Many people haven’t eaten lamb, so they aren’t comfortable buying meat they haven’t cooked before,” she said. “They need to have recipes”
John added that lamb cooks a little differently than other types of meat, so it takes some patience and skill to turn out a quality product. But lamb is also a great meat to grill as it has more tolerance than other types of meat.
Betsy added it’s important to remove as much fat as possible before cooking.
“Lamb should not sit in its own fat,” she said. “If you are roasting a leg of lamb, you need to put it on a rack. Lamb is better when it is a little bit rare, you don’t want to dry it out. The temperature of the meat depends on the recipe.”
She said it is not hard to find a recipe for lamb, but the problem is finding lamb in local stores. Anderson said a lot of people aren’t familiar with lamb, mainly because it is considered a minor species as far as meat production is concerned.
“Lamb is a specialty product, it is not as available as beef or pork,” he said. “We lost a generation after World War II, so a lot of people did not grow up eating lamb.”
The sheep industry was at its peak around the Civil War, especially the wool market, as it was in high demand for uniforms. In this area, it is more about lamb, and the availability of lamb. Anderson said lamb needs to be available to consumers year round.
“Most lamb in the meat case is grass-fed” he said. “It is a slower process and it takes longer for the lambs to reach market weight, but that is what many consumers want. But grain fed lamb is tender and it reaches market weight faster.”
Anderson said by lambing their flock in September, January and again in the spring, they have tried to address the availability of lamb for consumers.
“We need to have a good product to start with,” he said. “Management and genetics are a big issue, we need to have a consistent quality product, at a consistent price and people will come back to lamb.”