Icelandic Lamb and the Guard Llama

There are days, where I think to myself "I have the best job ever!". Sometimes it's the moment I look around a room of full of happy diners I have just fed, but most predictably, it is the drive to and from local farms that makes me feel the most content in my work. The personal experiences and connections that are formed truly have a deep impact on me. Being able to see with my very own eyes the conditions that the animals live in and meeting the farmers themselves is an integral part of the philosophy that drives me. My sourcing is always with small and local farms, so I have promised myself that I will visit every single farm I source through. I have been to the local slaughterhouse many times and will continue to do so in the future. I feel proud to be able to stand on my morals as I build my business and reputation in food. Integrity is key in this battle. We have gotten so far off the track, even our attempts at fixing the problems have caused their own (organic farmed salmon, anyone?). The concessions that many "natural" and "organic" markets make to ensure profits and growth are anathema to the true idea of sustainability. By setting out my standards now, I will continue to let my ethics, morals and respect to guide my choices. Respect for the animals we eat, the land, air and water on which we depend and the people that produce our food should be the driving force. I can swear to the quality of life on every farm I use. I have no compunction about not using popular and lucrative but irresponsible items on my menus. I will not apologize for the true cost of locally produced meats and will always support small, local farms. When people ask why I chose the name "The Ethical Butcher", this is my answer.

My promise to visit every farm I source through is not a tough one to keep. The sort of farms I visit are not stinky feedlots crammed with filthy animals. Quite the opposite, my visits take me to pristine farms buried in picturesque rolling hills of vineyards and orchards, golden fields of wheat and the Oregon beauty that we are privileged to enjoy. I am greeted by guard llamas and turkeys before I even shake hands with the farmer, who is always warm, welcoming and eager to show me around. The hospitality is always unmatched as we share food and stories.

My visit last week to Dolce Farm and Orchards was no different. Annie Kosanovic Brown opened her Willamette Valley wind-powered farm and home to me and a friend who was visiting from NYC. We surveyed her land, she pointed out the acres of Italian plum trees and hazelnuts planted back in the 20s that surround the house and fields of animals. Annie then invited us in, we first entered the kitchen, drawn in by aromas of citrus and spices. The stove was packed with pans busy stewing lamb shanks and awaiting the spread Annie was soon to prepare for us. We headed out to the fields to meet everyone, including the purpose of my visit, her Icelandic sheep.

Prized for their wool as well as their meat, this breed is over 1,000 years old! It was a staple for the Vikings-the pelts, fleece, wool of the Icelandic had much to do with their success as the Viking made sails, ropes and clothing from this breed. The meat is the most tender, delicate I have ever had the pleasure of eating. As we approached the field, guard llama #1 sat judiciously near the gate, charged with protecting the ewes and ewe lambs. We were granted access and entered the field shared by the ewes and a flock of Delaware chickens. Dozens of eyes watched us as the ewes contentedly chewed their cud and ewe lambs played in a pile of hay nearby. We peeked into the chicken house and found a few freshly laid eggs for our lunch and said goodbye to the ladies. We were once again eyed by guard llama #1 as we left the field and headed down to meet the rams and ram lambs. The Icelandic sheep is known for its dramatically curled horns, which grow in toward the face in a large corkscrew. The ram with the biggest horns stood out right away. Mr.Salty's imposing figure was only emboldened by his bright coat as he watched us walk by, his field was guarded by guard llama #2, Bella. There's an ironic story behind that name. One that can only really be understood if I tell the story in person. Let's say she's a bit like the ugly duckling, but different, and if I see you around, ask me to recount the tale. I digress...

We continued on to meet the ram lambs, one of which is to be the lamb for my upcoming lamb events here in Portland. They were skiddish and turned their backs to us, so I only got a glimpse. I watched him for a while. It is these moments of clarity and accountability I am fortunate to have in my post-vegetarianism. Here I am, encompassed by this incredible farm and looking at the happy lamb frolicking with his lamby friends who will in just a few weeks be laying on my table awaiting my first cut. It is a surreal thought that I can not aptly articulate but wish every omnivore could have.

After meeting everyone, Annie suggested we head back inside for lunch. We had no idea of the splendor that lie ahead. Over hours of conversation we leisurely enjoyed mutton summer sausage, mutton fresh sausage with white wine and garlic, an omelette with fresh herbs from the garden, tomato-orange braised lamb shanks and butter biscuits with Annie's homemade Italian plum jam and chutney and a mind-blowing carrot flower honey she got a local beekeeper.
Carrot honey, enough said. After lunch, Annie showed us the pelts, raw fleece and handspun yarn that Annie makes and sells from her farm. Brings that whole "head-to-tail" idea home.

Annie's generosity was matched only by the quality of the food she shared with us. And I am so excited to be able to share this fine, delectable lamb with people over the two events I have coming up. Lamb is a wonderful alternative to beef, has a much lower footprint and little waste. Not to mention it is just plain delicious. If you think you hate lamb, chances are you have not had good, locally pastured lamb. Grain-fed lambs take on an unnatural amount of globular fat that tastes horrible and over-cooking often makes lamb tough. Good pastured lamb is some of the best flavored meat I have tasted. This particular breed just ups the anty. I love starting with whole animals and this will be my first foray into serving offal, this dinner promises to be absolutely filled with tender lamb goodness.

Here is the menu and more info:

Friday,March 5th 730pm-Heritage Breed Supper Club: Icelandic Lamb
*10% off for those who attended the first Heritage Breed Supper Club, email for details.

savory lamb baklava and stuffed dates
pita, labneh & tabouli
tea, 5-spice and Italian plum roasted rack of lamb
cocoa rubbed spareribs glazed with aleppo pepper and orange
dukkah* loin chop with roasted fennel and mint coulis
*dukkah is a mixture of hazelnuts, sesame seeds and many spices ground finely to a paste. delicious.
lamb tangine with candied pumpkin and herb-pistachio rice

$28/person, 2 for $50 SOLD OUT!!!! SOLD OUT!!!!
Guests encouraged to provide personal beverages. Limited seating.
609 SE Ankeny Unit A
Portland, OR 97214

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