So the reason my husband cited for wanting sheep: “Because they will eat the weeds in the field that the horses won’t eat, and then I can eat them!” Seriously? Why does it always have to be about you eating something?!
May I first say before proceeding with the story, that expectations in a marriage are something which one is wise to be very careful of. (Yeah don’t ask how we learned this.) Suffice it to say that from previous experience, I thought it best to make myself very clear this time. Therefore, before we had even gotten that first chicken, I had already explained to the hubs that if he wanted to eat home grown meat, he would have to: 1) Not ever eat anything I vetoed eating. 2) If he wanted help slaughtering a chicken he would have to find it elsewhere, because I was not going to help him kill, gut, de-feather, etc. which leads to 3) If he wanted me to cook it he would have to bring it to me like it came from the grocery store.
Adding sheep to the home-grown meat list made it necessary to attach an addendum to the already established ground rules: Processing sheep needs not to be done in front of me or anybody else here. A chicken is one thing, but our farm isn’t big enough to go far enough away. Not possessing the professional bone-saw or other equipment either had already (fortunately for me) left this job to the professionals though. Upon recommendation we were able to find a humane-kill facility that is a well-maintained family run meat-processing business. In addition, at the point in which it was decided to get sheep, I opted to purchase registered animals for one reason alone: so that they would be worth more alive than dead. (Think selling cute animals to a good home and thus saving them from the freezer.)
“But I don’t even like lamb,” I argued. “You just haven’t had it prepared right,” he countered. Actually, I’d only had it a few times. Nobody in my family would make it because after my grandfather got back from the South Pacific during his tour of duty during World War II, he said that he never wanted to eat mutton again. Apparently those ships reeked of the stuff. I figured if Grandpa didn’t like it, that was reason enough for me not to like it either. I tried to tell the hubs that I didn’t care if I ever liked it or didn’t. He still wanted sheep though. We processed our first lamb when I discovered that they are not called rams for nothing. (Think battering ram. Cute lamb was not nearly as cute after he butted me.)
Lance held up his end of the bargain and the next thing I knew, I was now in possession of an entire cooler full of lamb: every perfectly, individually packaged cut imaginable. I groaned inside. I had no idea how to cook the stuff. We had however, recently dined at a fabulous local restaurant and at my husband’s encouragement, I had ordered the lamb shank. To my surprise and delight I absolutely loved it. The chef used kumquats and kale to balance and accompany the decadent richness of the slow-cooked lamb in a thick red tomato based sauce. I decided that would be my first attempt. I did quite a bit of research and combed through several internet and Pinterest recipes before settling on watching Anne Burrell on the Food Network. Thank you Anne! Although I must admit I was likely a bit of a slow learner – it took me a couple of times before I could master the art of browning without setting off the fire alarm! Finally I heard her, “Take your time,” she said, in reference to the browning process. Ah well!
Needless to say, Pinterest has become my friend in the kitchen. I have now mastered lamb stew (awesome over cheese grits or mashed potatoes) and am complimented when friends occasionally point out that we haven’t invited them over in a while for leg of lamb or lamb shanks. I have also discovered how to make a mean balsamic reduction, which goes excellently over tomatoes paired with soft mozzarella and fresh basil from the garden as well as drizzled over lamb chops. Now I’m making myself hungry.
We pride ourselves in giving our animals a happy and good life where they are cared for responsibly and loved. Some of our animals we sell, and a few we have opted to use for our own consumption. Each animal is honored in life as well as in death. I do hope not to offend anyone here. Personally I have even considered becoming a vegetarian, but apparently each person’s body is different and I not only enjoy eating meat, but seem to do better physically with that source in my diet.
As far as why Grandpa didn’t like mutton, I have my own theory for that now. First of all, lamb is defined as an animal less than one year old. Lamb of course is going to be the best as far as quality of meat and will possess a milder flavor. Grandpa never called it lamb. He called it mutton. Basically speaking and without getting too technical, mutton is an adult animal two years old or greater. (Incidentally, hogget is a juvenile animal between approximately one and two years of age. And now you get why the farmer and his wife had the last name of Hogget in the movie Babe. You're welcome.) Preparation is certainly key too. I don’t know how they prepared it on that ship, but however they did it or for whatever reason, Grandpa never wanted to see it again. Also, and this is something the hubs and I discovered on our own, owing to sheep meat in general having a distinct aroma and flavor, and much of the strength of flavor being present in any animal in the bones, anything left over from one meal to the next, or perhaps having been prepared in advance, would only concentrate that strength were the bones left in it. (Therefore my personal tip is to remove the bone immediately after cooking and only cook enough for one meal. Leftovers are usually fine the next day as long as you didn’t leave the bone in.) There is of course also the obvious possibility that is true of just about anything: eat it too much and you just plain get sick of it. If any of my dear readers would know more about the history of mutton eating soldiers in the South Pacific during World War II, I would love to hear about it in the comments!
So yes, the sheep were his idea. Eating lamb that we have raised was his idea too. It’s been an adventure that I’d never trade though. I feel much the richer for both my wonderful sheep and the joy and experience of learning to prepare delicious lamb dishes.