Thursday, August 28, 2008

The best lamb I have ever eaten

I am currently on vacation in the mountains of central Washington State.  Our house for the week is nestled between pear orchards, creeks, and towering mountains.  

Eating here has been a bit tricky.  I haven't been able to find good eggs and bacon, which is unfortunate, but there is fruit and veggies a-plenty in every direction.

When we arrived we checked out the local "natural" foods store.  This is a decent place for shipped foods, but local quality is almost impossible in the Supermarket setting.  However the proprietor of the store gave us a list of folks who might have meats and produce.  This is how we found Eric.  

Eric and his wife Catha live in Peshastin, WA, about a ten minute drive from our house.  They primarily make cheese for a living.  They also raise and sell Lamb.  I called Eric and asked about the availability of some lamb.  He said they usually sell quarters and halves, but he would check for something smaller.  About an hour later he called back and told me he had a 5.5 lb leg in the freezer he could sell me for $7/lb.  I said we'd be over the next day to get it.

Now we are here with friends that are not so trusting of small producers, so I felt I needed a bit more information.  The next morning I called Eric before heading over and started to ask him about his slaughtering process:

"how do you process and such things?"  

"well...I do it.  With a knife.  I slit their throats." 

I laughed, and as he launched into the rest of the story I began to realize that this was what I have looked for.  To go to a town, meet and talk with local food producers, support them with our business, this is the virtue of local eating.  

Eric's operation sounded pretty Kosher.  He waits till the fall, when all the flies are dead.  He slaughters the animals in the lower barn.  Lamb can hang and bleed out without being chilled so carefully as beef.  So he lets them bleed out for a few days before transferring the carcasses to his cutter/packer.  This facility handles the cutting, packing and freezing of the meats, which Eric then brings back home and stores for his customers.   

Upon arriving at the farm, Eric greeted us warmly.  He has short dreaded locks, and was wearing a dirty t-shirt and ripped blue jeans.  He didn't seem like any cheesemaker I could imagine.

About thirty minutes later, we were standing in Eric's cheese making room, waiting for him to return with cheese, wine and crackers.  We told him we weren't going to buy any cheese, but he said we had to try some, and that we could not try it without wine and crackers.  His cheese, a brie or camembert type cheese, was terrific, creamy, smooth, but with stinky flavor.

After showing us the spot where the lamb had lived, and introducing us to his pair of Great Pyrenees and his pigs, we were on our way.  He told us the lamb would likely be the best we ever tasted, if, he cautioned, we did not overcook it.  I told him we would take care of it.

Last night we cooked the leg.  5.5 lbs in a convection oven for about 1 hour and 25 minutes.  I prepare my lamb greek style, with a lemon/olive oil baste every 10-15 minutes.   It was most definitely the tastiest lamb meat I have ever eaten.  It was also satisfying to know that we were eating meat of an animal that was raised and killed within 5 miles of our house, by a small self sufficient family.  It was sold at a reasonable price and the quality of the product was supreme.  

I knew everything about the meat I ate last night.  Comparatively, I have eaten lamb in the past that traveled over 10000 miles to arrive at my plate.  Sure it was good, but not like this.  One of my dinner companions said, "If I were in a restaurant and this was $200 a plate, I would believe it was worth it.  Then again, if I were told it was crap I would believe it too.  That's how different this lamb tastes."  Thankfully he liked the flavor, going back for seconds, and thirds