I recently got a spectacular new grill (the kind that has charcoal and gas) with a side smoker box. I have seasoned it with bacon grease and is ready to go. The sizzle of the fire, the rich aroma of the cooking meat and the delicious results of summer grilling hold an irresistible appeal for me. Steak is great, pork chops are divine and chicken is delicious, but lamb cooked to perfection on the grill can top them all.
Now, I am a bit biased with regard to my affinity for lamb. I married the Ohio Lamb and Wool Queen whom I met on the job 12 years ago (being an agricultural journalist does have it perks) and we do work extensively with my in-laws’ flock of registered Horned Dorset sheep. We show our sheep at the Ohio State Fair and my daughter is already smitten with having sheep in our barn. As a result, I am pretty much required to enjoy lamb. In fact, this actually may have been in the small print of my marriage vows.
But, marital obligation or not, I have really grown to enjoy cooking and eating lamb in the last few years and I am not alone. It seems that both on and off the grill, lamb is hot these days. From the television chefs to the culinary homemaker, lamb is experiencing a resurgence in popularity for a number of reasons. First, it is delicious when prepared properly.
“A lamb chop is pretty doggone good,” said Rick Reynolds, manager of the United Producers, Inc. livestock auction in Mt. Vernon. “I think there are l consumers out there that are being re-introduced to lamb. People are hearing about how good lamb is on television and how to prepare the different cuts. When they hear about it they want to try it. More people are fixing it once a week or once a month to add a little variety to what they are eating.”
The trend of more general consumers seeking out popular lamb cuts including leg of lamb, lamb chops, rib chops and others have helped to bolster demand to levels that it has not had for years. In addition, growing ethnic populations in Ohio and the eastern U.S. are creating a strong market for lamb in the state.
“Instead of just Jewish and Greek markets, we’re seeing more people coming into this region from Somalia and the Middle East,” Reynolds said. “There is a growing market for lamb because of that as well.”
As evidence of lamb’s current popularity, the recent Ohio Lamb Chef’s Day held on a farm in Westerville had a fantastic turn out of lamb chefs interested in learning about recipes and insights from experts despite the miserable rainy conditions. The event featured delicious Ohio wines paired with and used in lamb recipes including: Lamb Tartare, Lamb Terrine, Lamb Ragout, Lamb Roast and cured lamb bacon.
Great lamb recipes are available at www.americanlamb.com and a quick Internet search brings up scores more from Food Network notables and others. In addition, the American Lamb Board is hosting popular Lamb Jam Tour in major cities across the country this summer that features top chefs and delicious lamb recipes. Ohio will be hosting its version of the Lamb Jam at the Ohio State Fair this summer on Aug. 5 (at 11:30 by the Brown Sheep Arena) for fairgoers to sample great lamb and learn recipes from some of Ohio’s premier chefs.
In addition to the great taste and culinary diversity they offer, sheep, of course, provide natural wool and a number of environmental benefits. Sheep efficiently convert grass (something we cannot eat) to meat (something that we can eat) with minimal disruption of the natural ecosystem. Sheep also make valuable use of hilly, erosion-prone land that cannot be used for anything else productive while fertilizing the soil. They are also easier on fences, compatible with grazing other types of livestock and are fairly easy to work with due to their smaller size.
But when it comes to the dinner table, the bottom line is that lamb chops (and other cuts) are pretty doggone good and worth trying on the grill this summer, and I am not just saying that because I married the Ohio Lamb and Wool Queen.