WINDMILL COUNTRY: Ethnic demands alter traditional Easter lamb market

By Jerry Lackey

Saturday, April 7, 2012

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Many people celebrating Easter this weekend are feasting on lamb. However, the traditional Easter lamb market that West Texas sheep raisers scheduled their breeding and marketing program around 20 and 30 years ago is no longer very active.

“Continued demand from the ethnic markets and less available numbers of sheep and goats through livestock markets has given us higher marketing values,” said Benny Cox, president of Texas Sheep & Goat Raisers’ Association. “This has happened for many years now when we get into the winter months.”

This year is different from last year in that the traditional market for wooled feeder lambs has changed. The traditional lamb feeders are quiet now because of an oversupply of fat lambs in commercial feed yards that are not being killed. There is a concern that they may not clean up this oversupply until this summer, Benny wrote in his monthly report in Ranch magazine.

He said ethnic consumers buy the whole carcass, and the weight and size make a difference.

The highest marketing months for the kid goats and light lambs — kids weighing 70 pounds or less, and lambs about 80 pounds — has been March and April for at least the past 12 years.

Actually, there is a steady year-round demand with the nation’s growing ethnic population. Starting with Islamic holy month of Ramadan in October, the ethnic trade rules the lightweight lamb and goat market.

Cox, who is the sheep sales manager at San Angelo’s Producers Livestock Auction, said the Muslim customers are spotted regularly from fall until a few weeks before Easter.

They buy young goats, mainly Boer and Spanish mixed-bloodline kids weighing from 40 to 60 pounds.

Ideal live weights for the traditional Western or Roman Easter lamb is 30 to 45 pounds. The Greek Easter celebration normally uses a 40- to 55-pound lamb or a goat similar to Western Easter kids weighing around 35 pounds.

“Being fresh is a big factor, so the goats are slaughtered on arrival. It is important for the ethnic customer,” Benny said. “It takes 35 hours to truck the goats to the East Coast.”

Prices historically climb toward Easter, then fall off in the early summer for a July through September annual low before climbing in the fall and winter, according to Denver-based Livestock Market Information Center.

“To the Western world, lamb is to Easter what turkey is to Thanksgiving,” Paula Deen, the TV chef from Savannah, Ga., told her audience on the Food Network.

Food historians trace serving lamb for Easter to the first Passover, when the Jewish people prepared a sacrificial lamb with the hope that the angel of God would pass over their homes and spare their firstborn from harm.

The consumption of lamb is not only associated with religions, it also is a staple food in parts of the world. Lamb is popular with Greeks and Basques and people from the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, according to a study by the University of Illinois Extension Service.

“The typical lamb consumer is an older, relatively well-established ethnic minority from a metropolitan area who may be purchasing the lamb for fresh use or long-term freezer storage,” writes Keithly Jones in Trends in the U.S. Sheep Industry.

Like all holidays, Easter has become commercial, taking on not only the celebration of a feast with lamb or even ham, but rabbits and chicken eggs also are mixed into the entertainment side.

Grocery store shelves are filled with baskets and fluffy bunnies, candy and plastic eggs.

According to the Wikipedia online encyclopedia, the Easter Bunny bringing Easter eggs had its origins in Alsace and the Upper Rhineland in the early 1600s, both then in the Holy Roman Empire, part of what would become Germany.

The Easter Bunny was introduced to America by German settlers who arrived in the Pennsylvania-Dutch country during the 1700s.

Many Christians of the Eastern Orthodox church still typically dye their Easter eggs red, the color of blood, in recognition of the blood of the sacrificed Christ (and of the renewal of life in springtime). Some also use the color green, in honor of the new foliage emerging after the long dead time of winter, according to Wikipedia.

Happy Easter!

Jerry Lackey writes about agriculture. Contact him at jlackey@wcc.net or 325-949-2291.

By Mary MacVean, Los Angeles TimesApril 6, 2012

As turkey is to Thanksgiving and roast beef to Christmas, so lamb is to Easter and Passover. It’s the best season of the year for an industry that’s been struggling to get more racks and legs on American dinner plates.

Lamb and mutton consumption in the U.S. has dropped for the last four years and is expected to be flat at best in 2012, according to the American Lamb Board.

Experts blame a sluggish economy and lamb’s high price relative to other meats. Racks of lamb were selling this week at a Whole Foods market in Los Angeles for a hefty $17.99 a pound.

Then there’s fear of the unknown. Nearly 40% of Americans have never eaten lamb, according to a 2011 survey by the American Lamb Board.

“People are not quite sure what to do with it,” said Angela Gentry, marketing director for lamb processor Superior Farms in Dixon, Calif. “The grocery industry has made it seem like a specialized product, like wild game.”

Still, the industry is hopeful that a recovering economy, changing demographics and evolving tastes can give lamb a leg up. Long popular among growing immigrant populations in the United States, lamb is starting to catch on with young, adventurous eaters who watch food television shows. An industry campaign is underway to get ranchers to increase their flocks.

“For our stores, lamb is a very good category. It’s been growing every year,” said Theo Weening, the global meat coordinator for Whole Foods Market Inc. “The cooking shows and magazines are making people feel more comfortable.”

U.S. lamb consumption peaked in the 1940s at 6.6 pounds per person, and has since fallen to a little more than a pound per person a year, according to a National Academy of Sciences report. Experts point to a variety of factors over the decades, including a shift in wool production offshore.

American sheep ranchers are aging, and too few young people are taking their place despite the potential for a profitable business, Superior Farms’ Gentry said.

Still, some lamb sellers are doing a brisk trade this spring, the time when 20% of all lamb is purchased in the U.S. Passover begins Friday evening and Easter is Sunday.

Lindy & Grundy, a boutique butcher on Fairfax Avenue, stocked 12 lambs for the week — up from the usual three or four, co-owner Erika Nakamura said. The animals come from Stemple Creek Ranch in Marin County.

Nathan McCall, the owner of McCall’s Meat and Fish Co. in Los Feliz, said he expected double his usual sales for lamb this week, with many customers choosing a leg of lamb, priced at $9.99 a pound with the bone in, or $15.99 boneless.

McCall sells lamb from California and Colorado, the nation’s second- and third-largest producers behind Texas.

Imported lamb, mostly from Australia and New Zealand, accounts for about half of U.S. consumption. But McCall said his customers’ desire for locally raised food is “more than I could ever imagine.”

“It’s all about media exposure,” he said. “People are becoming more aware.”

Marcie Jimenez, a Santa Ynez Valley farmer who sells her lamb regularly at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, agrees.

“I see a big trend toward eating local lamb, and people want to know who’s raising their food and where their food is coming from,” said Jimenez, who raises a breed of sheep known as Dorper with her husband, Gustavo. “I’ve been strongly trying to educate people about what you get. We use the whole animal. They’ll want racks or whatever they’re used to getting. There’s only two racks on a lamb. And I still have the rest of the animal.”

She expects to sell as many as 10 lambs this week, up from the usual two to three. A bone-in leg is priced at $14 a pound. Jimenez Family Farm also sells lamb shoulder, pieces for stew or kebabs, neck and ground meat.

It’s no surprise that Gentry of Superior Farms has plenty of lamb recipes at her disposal. On Easter Sunday, she said, she’ll cook a rack of lamb, seared and then roasted with Dijon mustard and bread crumbs — the recipe that, she said, made her boyfriend fall in love with her.



from Cherrymenlove.com

I know that it will soon be Spring and warming up slightly but last weekend it was still freezing and this is the perfect excuse for a slow cooked Sunday lunch. The meat in this dish falls from the bone and lands in the sweetest, syrup of a sauce that has all the body of the red wine that has been poured in to it. Pair with buttered shallots, fresh rosemary, polenta and spinach and you have a meal that I know my family will be eating for many years to come. Easy, fresh, tasty and a doddle to make. My twenty month old twins loved every mouthful and they are my harshest critics.

Serves: 4


40g butter – unsalted
300g shallots – peeled
15g fresh rosemary
4 lamb shanks
4 tablespoons plain flour
salt & pepper to season
150ml balsamic vinegar
500ml red wine
60ml tomato puree
3tblsp caster sugar

Read More Here or copy and paste: http://www.cherrymenlove.com/foodrecipes/2012/02/slow-cooked-lamb-shanks.html

The Find: Gish Bac

David Padilla and Maria Ramos bring decades of expertise to their barbacoa and moles.

The goat barbecue is richly flavored at Gish Bac.The goat barbecue is richly flavored at Gish Bac. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
By Bill Esparza, Special to the Los Angeles TimesJuly 21, 2011

At David Padilla and Maria Ramos’ Oaxacan restaurant Gish Bac, the weekends are made for goat and lamb barbecue. A third-generation barbacoa specialist, Ramos began learning the trade of goat and lamb barbecue as a 10-year-old in Oaxaca’s Sunday market in Tlacolula — one of Mexico’s longest-running markets — where her family still operates a stand.

The couple came to Los Angeles in 1992 and immediately began catering private events. This went on until a year ago, when a growing chorus of requests from attendees at these gatherings demanded more regular access to Ramos’ barbacoa. Padilla and Ramos found a restaurant location in the heart of Mid-City, and Gish Bac (roughly, “from Tlacolula”) was born, home to what might be L.A.’s best licit barbacoa.

But it’s not all about the barbacoa. The mole negro, or black mole, is prepared with more than 30 ingredients, including herbs and spices such as cinnamon, thyme, star anise, dried fruits, toasted ground nuts plus bread and tortillas for consistency. At its base is a variety of chiles including the chihuacle, mulato and costeño. Viewed up close, there are subtle streaks of colors from the various chiles and spices. It’s a smooth and refined mole, neither overly sweet nor one-note — it’s brilliant.

The stack of corn tortillas drowned with herb-laced black-bean puree, known as the enfrijolada, may be even better, with a depth of flavor that elevates the dish far above the humble bean. And the breakfast drink chocolate de agua is a grown-up hot chocolate rich with imported Oaxacan chocolate.

The couple makes everything in-house: tasajo (salt-cured beef), cesina (marinated pork), chorizo and moles. Their cooking comes from the Valle de Oaxaca, where Zapotec native culture thrives. Its cuisine is the most respected of the seven cooking regions in a state famous for its gastronomy.

“The Tlacolula market where we are from is like your Wednesday Santa Monica market here,” Padilla says. The big difference at their restaurant in L.A.? “In the [Oaxaca] market, we can offer samples to all the people walking by.”

Gish Bac offers barbacoa blanca and enchilada on the weekends. The former is pit-roasted lamb scented by avocado leaves and served with an intensely seasoned, meat-perfumed consommé. Pancita, a hodgepodge of chile-flavored lamb offal stuffed in a whole stomach, precedes the main course. The barbacoa enchilada is goat roasted over avocado leaves and served in its juices.

Every mouthful of goat barbacoa — tender meat infused with intense aromatics — yields the distinct flavors of dried red chiles, cloves and ripe tomatoes.

Most customers are Oaxacan at this modestly designed space — regional tchotchkes add a touch of charm. There’s a stainless steel taqueria-style condiment island containing simple salsas that are amazing in freshness and zip. There’s a diner counter near the kitchen that in a perfect world would serve sips of mescal — but Gish Bac has no liquor license.

At a large table, a family celebrating its daughter’s first Communion tears apart several clayudas, big, flat, crispy tortillas covered with beans, string cheese, house-cooked meats and vegetables.

Smiling and out-of-breath, two guys drag in a large pot to stock up on barbacoa-to-go for a private event. The entire kitchen staff starts running and pushing past each other, and a goat party package to-go is put together in minutes.


from 5@5 – John McDonald, CNN.com  Eatocracy

5. Mutton chop at Keen’s Chophouse (New York, New York)
“First of all, anyone that has not been here must go. It’s a legit classic, amazing historical architecture with a bunch of great rooms. While they have solid steaks and steakhouse-related items, the real get is the Double Mutton Chop, a huge chop from a mature sheep.

For anyone that loves lamb and wants a new thing to put on rotation, this guy is the one. Special note: be sure to check out the collection of clay pipes, by the thousands, that hang on the ceiling of the main room and the notables that have signed them.”

read full article HERE

From CNN.com:

1. There is nothing sustainable about losing money.
“Sustainable” agriculture has been all the vogue, but it is not just about how the land is cared for. A farmer must be able to pay the bills at the very least, and try to make a decent living. Providing protein to a restaurant and a great chef is no more noble a pursuit requiring charity than the chef feeding their patrons. It’s all business.

Small family farms are not able to compete with commodity protein on price or in delivery charges. Chefs who visit the farm where they are considering sourcing from understand that better than most.

How many lambs must my farm kill to buy a tractor? I need to kill and sell approximately 30 lambs in order to pay the annual audit fees for my be “certified organic.”

As a shepherd, I have decided the certification route is not how I wish to honor the lives of my lambs. I will use my lambs to buy a tractor, build a barn, purchase hay – all things that I believe advance the farm and life of our animals. That is my choice and that is how I wish to farm. Each farmer has their own unique set of values that guide their business decisions.

Some producers get caught up in who is buying their product and some of the “big names” simply don’t understand how to work with small family farms. They push the farmer to compete with commodity pricing. Many large restaurant groups provide incentives through cash bonuses to chefs to keep their food cost down, thereby discouraging the use of more expensive local products. Family farms do not need to feed everyone, or sell to every restaurant, but one of the hard lessons is figuring out who not to sell to – when it is best to just walk away and deal with a chef who “gets it.”

Perhaps one of the most important lessons in growing a business is learning how to say “no” to a sale. No chef or restaurant is worth losing money for the small producer. Loss leaders and other such marketing approaches are a part of business for those who can afford it – generally not the small farm producer.

2. The farmer relies on a good abattoir and butcher.
Many have lamented the lack of USDA slaughter facilities, and indeed that is a challenge. However, the greater challenge is to find a slaughter facility where they can do quality custom butchery instead of commodity packing. Mr. Fudge was handcuffed by not being able to find a quality butcher who could cut the quality of hams that country curing required. That resulted in excess inventory of product that could not realize it true market potential.

3. Whole animal usage is essential.
In general, most livestock producers who are selling directly to chefs work on a margin that is so slim, it corresponds to essentially one cut of the animal. I must sell the entire animal, minus one of the prime parts simply to cover the cost of the animal and the slaughter and processing bill. If I keep any legs, racks or loins in inventory, my operating revenue is sitting in a walk-in cooler or freezer and not paying the bills.

Chefs who use whole animals are saviors to small family livestock producers. It is interesting to me to see how many of the most lauded Southern chefs – like my customers Sean Brock, Linton Hopkins, Bryan Voltaggio and Dan Guisti – are the ones who use whole animals.

What has made my growth possible, however, are the chefs who use only parts of the animals but have an appreciation for the use of the whole animal. As an example, Adam Sobel of Bourbon Steak in Washington, DC recently switched from using whole animals to parts. But he did it in way that was financially sustainable for me.

He wanted to use more lamb loins, which along with racks, are the hottest sellers in the lamb world. In order to kill more animals to provide the loins, I can easily sell the rest of the animal – except for the legs. He agreed to buy two legs of lamb for every lamb saddle/loin he purchased. This turned it into a win-win. He got the loins he wanted, it provided more racks, shanks, and necks for which I always have a high demand, and I was not left with any inventory.

Likewise, I have many chefs who are willing to purchase and use whatever cut of lamb I am accumulating to help maintain my whole animal usage and limit my inventory. The chef who is willing to be adaptive is every bit as important to my business as the whole animal chef.

4. Beware of wholesalers who do not purchase whole animals.
Mr. Fudge is honest about his successes and failures. One of the mistakes he admits to is growing through the use of a wholesaler who could sell all the prime cuts of his hogs but was not purchasing many of the “off cuts.” Although total revenue went up when he started working with a distributor, so did his inventory. His cash flow went south.

I have been approached by major distributors and I find their methods remarkably out of touch with the realities of farming. Every major protein distributor wants a piece of the “local” pie. As soon as they see a significant number of the customers ending their purchases of commodity protein in favor of locally-farmed meat, they want in – but only on their terms.

They want to purchase parts based on customer orders, not whole animals. As Mr. Fudge soon learned, that only hurts the local farmer. Anyone can sell racks of lamb, but each animal only has two, and that constitutes only about seven percent of the whole animal carcass.

I started my business by cold-calling chefs and knocking on doors. I sell to fewer than 100 chefs in ten states. Any of the big truck grocers call on more than 100 restaurants in any medium size city. If a farmer can sell whole animals by knocking on doors, surely a big truck grocer can make a commitment to a farmer to buy whole animals and find a way to sell all the parts.

The lesson for small family protein farmers is not to get caught up with wholesalers who don’t have a commitment to whole animal usage. And wholesalers, if you don’t have a sales force capable of moving all the parts of an animal and making a whole animal commitment to a farmer, then don’t try to entice farmers to work with you in the name of sustainability.

How many small farmers need to find the fate of Mr. Fudge before the importance of sustainable business is appreciated?

5. Use your own money.
Mr. Fudge and so many farmers have found their demise at the hands of creditors. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, farming is the only profession where you buy everything at retail, sell everything at wholesale, and pay the the shipping costs both ways.

That is compounded by the dual realities that farms are perhaps second only to restaurants as credit risks, and small family farms must generally pay for everything in cash. I don’t know of a slaughterhouse that would not require the farmer to pay the slaughter and processing bill when they pick up the product. If farmers decide to sell directly, they must sell their product to restaurant groups on 30 day terms or worse.

It is also remarkable that essentially all of my whole animal customers also pay cash on delivery. They understand the reality of small farms and are willing to work with farmers.

Many who have decided to grow their direct protein sales have done so by buying other farmers’ animals. On one hand, that is a noble gesture. If they are paying more than the auction price, it is helping more farmers in rural areas who most likely do not have the skills to sell directly to high-end consumers or chefs.

On the other hand, farmers want to get paid. So, if the farmer is paid when the animals are delivered, it creates a need for capital to handle the cash flow.

Mr. Fudge and others have done this with “investors” or friends who lend them money. The margins are simply not great enough to assume much risk. A butcher who does not cut a customers animal correctly, or a delivery truck that breaks down on the road, or a drought that reduces the hay crop and increases feed costs all can equal up to negative cash flow and negative margins. Debt is not a farmer’s friend.

Thus, Mr. Fudge’s recommendation to others is to sell what you can grow, grow what you can pay for, and pay for it all using your own money. If you can afford to do more, then please think of helping another family farmer by buying their animals, cash up front, for a fair price.

Most importantly, thank any chef who appreciates the work of a farmer enough to use a whole animal or will be adaptive to the whole animal needs of the farmer.


%d bloggers like this: