SCIENCE OF THE LAMBS

KELLI BRETT DIS­COV­ERS LAMB IS NOT JUST LAMB ANY­MORE.

Cuisine - - CONTENTS - Lamb pho­tog­ra­phy Ja­son Creaghan / Styling Fiona Las­celles

Kelli Brett con­fronts the part of the pad­dock-to-plate process that most of us would rather ig­nore

Al­lan Brunt, Bon­ing room se­nior su­per­vi­sor, Al­liance Lorneville

“This is the part where it gets tricky, the part where most peo­ple dis­con­nect. Why doesn’t any­one want to talk about the fact that eat­ing meat means that an­i­mals are killed?”

LAMB. A DEF­I­NITE KIWI FAVOURITE.

Or is it? A re­port ear­lier this year by the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co-op­er­a­tion and Devel­op­ment (OECD), said New Zealand’s an­nual sheep-meat con­sump­tion has dropped to around 900 grams per per­son. In 2006 it was 19 kilo­grams per per­son. There are claims that the OECD re­port may be dis­torted, but we do ap­pear to be eat­ing less lamb.

Meat con­sump­tion in gen­eral con­tin­ues to re­ceive a thrash­ing from an­i­mal-rights ad­vo­cates and plant­based nu­tri­tion gu­rus. Mon­days are now of­fi­cially meat­less and our so­cial feeds are crammed with ex­cit­ing vege­tar­ian and ve­gan recipes that en­cour­age us to think be­yond the stan­dard piece of pro­tein ac­com­pa­nied by 2-3 to­ken veg on our plate. With price point be­ing a ma­jor de­cid­ing fac­tor for many of us and with pork and poul­try be­ing (for the most part) cheaper op­tions, New Zealan­ders might be look­ing at that leg or rack of lamb as a spe­cial treat, no longer a week-night in­gre­di­ent.

So per­haps the fu­ture for New Zealand lamb lies more within the pre­mium arena?

There were a num­ber of great New Zealand lamb pro­duc­ers who wanted to be in this spe­cial NZ is­sue of Cui­sine.

I want to be trans­par­ent with you about what we want to achieve here. I chose Te Mana Lamb be­cause of the many in­ter­est­ing el­e­ments they can bring to this story. Science, ge­net­ics, tech­nol­ogy, in­te­gra­tion with the farmer and the consumer and, most im­por­tantly, trace­abil­ity. And no, Te Mana Lamb did not pay to be in­cluded.

BRING­ING BACK THE FAT

My jour­ney started in the South Is­land at Mt Burke Sta­tion lo­cated be­tween two mag­nif­i­cent lakes, Wanaka and Hawea. The cur­rent owner Tim Bur­don is the third-gen­er­a­tion Bur­don to farm the land. Tim and his man­ager Grant Rud­den­klau talked me through the re­al­i­ties of farm­ing sheep that are specif­i­cally bred for the New Zealand high coun­try.

The Te Mana pro­gramme has emerged from the Omega Lamb Pro­ject Pri­mary Growth Part­ner­ship in­volv­ing Al­liance Group Limited, Head­wa­ters and the Min­istry for Pri­mary In­dus­tries. It has evolved from over 10 years of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with the aim of de­vel­op­ing a breed that com­fort­ably for­age be­yond the flat, eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble and valu­able farm­ing space. Over 500 ge­netic lines were tested to find the ul­ti­mate ram. The Ge­orge Clooney of rams was Ram 211, whose off­spring have thrived in the high coun­try. Each year 80 new sires are tested, and the very best en­ter the elite breed­ing pro­gramme across the 33 farms cur­rently work­ing with Te Mana.

While breed­ing th­ese sheep to be health­ier and bet­ter adapted to a high­coun­try en­vi­ron­ment the sci­en­tists and farm­ers dis­cov­ered some­thing new. The sheep had de­vel­oped an in­tra­mus­cu­lar fat, with mar­bling, richer in Omega-3 than any other red meat. For over 30 years the in­dus­try has been tak­ing the fat out of our lamb to con­form with a consumer de­mand for leaner meat. Now Te Mana is putting the fat back in.

YOU ARE WHAT YOUR MEAT EATS

My next stop was at Wai­field farm, where the lambs that are bred at Mt Burke Sta­tion are de­liv­ered to spend their fi­nal 30 days. Here they graze on chicory herb pas­tures that con­trib­ute to the nat­u­rally high lev­els of Omega-3. Steven Romes, his wife He­len and son Scott work the farm and take great pride in their part of the pro­ject process. They tell me that the in­te­grated ap­proach from Te Mana has made them think dif­fer­ently about their prod­uct. Be­ing en­cour­aged to work along­side the de­vel­op­ers and pro­ces­sors and then hav­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to meet the chefs that cook with their lamb has meant that their own jour­ney no longer ends with watch­ing the lambs go out the gate. They have be­come in­ter­ested in more than just the end price.

Af­ter a good look around the farm and a walk through the lush chicory

fields Steven fires up the bar­be­cue and I’m treated to lamb racks, fil­lets and He­len’s amaz­ing corn salad. Hav­ing those beau­ti­ful lambs just a few pad­docks away, ig­no­rantly go­ing about the busi­ness of fat­ten­ing them­selves up for slaugh­ter made me think a lot more about the food on my plate. Per­haps it was the fresh air, per­haps it was be­cause I needed it to be good af­ter feel­ing a con­nec­tion to the lambs: it was pure and hon­est, no in­tri­cate cook­ing tech­niques or sauces, just lamb straight off the bar­bie and it was pretty damn good. Ac­tu­ally, it was ex­cel­lent.

THERE HAS TO BE A BUTCHER

Af­ter my night at Wai­field farm, I’d in­tended to pop into Queen­stown for a lovely lunch of said branded lamb and then fly back to Auckland. But, on dis­cov­er­ing that the Al­liance Lorneville plant was only an hour away, I wanted to see it. What’s the point of be­ing on a jour­ney if you can’t reach the end point? Af­ter a few phone calls I was cau­tiously granted per­mis­sion.

This is the part where it gets tricky, the part where most peo­ple dis­con­nect. Why doesn’t any­one want to talk about the fact that eat­ing meat means that an­i­mals are killed? The cur­rent fo­cus for Te Mana is to build brand aware­ness with New Zealand chefs and yet most of the chefs I have spo­ken to have not wit­nessed the end process. I needed to see it.

Just get­ting into the plant was te­dious: af­ter much hand wash­ing, hair net­ting, don­ning of hy­gienic jump­suits, plas­tic gloves, pro­tec­tive gog­gles and com­mando-style gum­boots, I waded through what felt like miles of boot­wash­ing troughs and fi­nally made it to the pro­cess­ing floor. They started me off at the bon­ing and pack­ag­ing end. I was mes­merised by the creamy pale-pink skinned lamb whizzing past on hooks, quite beau­ti­ful in shape, all ex­actly the same size. I wasn’t ready for the dis­play of hu­man skill, al­most like watch­ing a well-chore­ographed ballet. Pre­cise, tight, neat, sharp, repet­i­tive, ev­ery move­ment fully planned and art­fully ex­e­cuted. The fin­ished cuts were clean and im­pres­sive with al­most ev­ery part used and ac­counted for. I’m told that Te Mana is even de­vel­op­ing a range of stocks to put the flavour­ful bones to good use.

I met se­nior su­per­vi­sor Al­lan Brunt, who talked me through the in­tri­cate and rig­or­ous pro­cess­ing re­quire­ments for the Te Mana prod­uct. A key as­pect is that ev­ery piece of lamb that leaves that floor can be traced from be­hind the farm gate to the bon­ing room. This makes it pos­si­bly the most trace­able of any lamb pro­gramme in the world.

I was taken by Al­lan’s over­whelm­ing sense of pride in the job as he talks about the pro­fes­sion­al­ism on the floor. The Lorneville plant pro­cesses a num­ber of dif­fer­ent lamb prod­ucts

“I wasn’t ready for the dis­play of hu­man skill, al­most like watch­ing a well-chore­ographed ballet. Pre­cise, tight, neat, sharp, repet­i­tive, ev­ery move­ment fully planned and art­fully ex­e­cuted. The fin­ished cuts were clean and im­pres­sive with al­most ev­ery part used and ac­counted for.”

but Al­lan be­lieves his team pre­fer to work the Te Mana shift be­cause of the con­sis­tency in size and weight and the tex­ture, “like slic­ing but­ter”.

I ask about the team, “Do they even eat lamb con­sid­er­ing what they have to do all day, ev­ery day?” He tells me the staff-dis­count of­fers are al­ways a sell out. What does he love about his job? “The knowl­edge that my team’s at­ten­tion to de­tail, along with the at­ten­tion of the farm­ers who pro­duce Te Mana and the chefs who cook it, has a di­rect im­pact on the consumer ex­pe­ri­ence.”

AS WE MOVE FUR­THER down the line to­wards the area where the lambs en­ter the pro­cess­ing line I’m asked a num­ber of times if I want to pro­ceed. So far I’m dis­tracted by the slick­ness of the op­er­a­tion, the in­tense con­cen­tra­tion on the faces of the pro­cess­ing team and the dance that the high-tech ma­chin­ery per­forms around them.

And then, all of a sud­den, I see the ma­chine that reaches for­ward and pulls the skin from the car­cass; I see lamb­swool and my brain con­nects that to the fluffy happy lambs I saw frol­ick­ing in a field of chicory the day be­fore. I keep walk­ing, the su­per­vi­sor’s voice now on mute while I take in the lambs as they en­ter the pro­cess­ing line. Quickly stunned, throat cut with one prac­tised stroke, the blood pours heav­ily into the drains and the car­cass keeps mov­ing along the line, each team mem­ber per­form­ing their spe­cific part of the process. In­tense con­cen­tra­tion. Repet­i­tive mo­tion. It was con­fronting and I was un­com­fort­able.

But re­ally, what did I ex­pect? I know that with my de­ci­sion to eat meat comes a re­quire­ment for me to be OK for an an­i­mal’s life to come to an end. I’m glad Te Mana were brave enough to let me in to ex­pe­ri­ence this, as it is an im­por­tant part of the story. The re­al­ity is that if we want to eat meat some­one needs to be the butcher. My ex­pe­ri­ence at Te Mana re­minded me of child­hood trips with mum to the lo­cal butcher, and of his knowl­edge and pride in his prod­uct. As a re­sult, I’m think­ing a lot more about the dif­fer­ence be­tween av­er­age lamb and pre­mium lamb.

And so, in­stead of bring­ing you pictures of fluffy lambs and lush green pas­tures, Cui­sine art di­rec­tor Fiona Las­celles and pho­tog­ra­pher Ja­son Creaghan were charged with the dif­fi­cult task of pho­tograph­ing the butchered parts of a whole raw lamb.

We hope that you might con­sider the part of the process that is not usu­ally dis­cussed, that bit within the pad­dockto-plate story that is usu­ally left out. If you choose to eat meat, then you should un­der­stand, ac­cept and ap­pre­ci­ate the whole jour­ney from be­gin­ning to end.

It is heart­en­ing to hear that chefs are re­quest­ing more and more the un­der­used cuts along with the fa­mil­iar.

We have cre­ated some ex­cel­lent lamb recipes for you on pages 24, 102 and 113. All the more rea­son for you to seek out pre­mium New Zealand lamb in the first place.

A fast-cook­ing cut un­der high heat. Score the fat, and sea­son with salt. Brown in a pan, rub with a herb-and-spice mix, then roast in a hot oven to medium rare.

SARATOGA RACK

A medium-cook­ing cut un­der low heat. Brown in a pan, rub with herband-spice mix then add a lit­tle liq­uid to cre­ate a moist heat and lower the tem­per­a­ture.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.