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Lamb Texture and Flavor: Colo., Vt, Australia, New Zealand ?

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After many yrs of loving lamb, I would really appreciate some knowledgeable CH help - to educate me on this! I'm inspired to ask because I recently was served some beautifully cooked Colo.lamb chops that were mealy (and not from any discernable acid marinade.) What does mealiness indicate (hoping to avoid it in the future)?
and how do the growing locations of lamb- affect its flavor and texture? I'm sure age and feed play a large part in the answer but I'm more thinking about the location question which is usually mentioned on menus and store labels , but i don't know what it tells me.Thx so much.

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  1. My guess is if it was marinated, the marinate broke down the texture of the meat. A long marinade can do this, but I don't know enough about how the lamb was prepared for you. Possibly a red wine marinade.

    Domestic lamb is larger then lamb from Down Under. Down Under lambs spend their entire life grazing on grass which gives it that gamey flavor, and tends to be lower in fat.

    Domestic lambs graze on grass also but are usually and the given grain the last 30 days before slaughter, and tend to have more fat which would help the lamb to retain moisture when cooking.

    My feeling is location doesn't play a big part but I could be wrong. I would think age and feed are the major factors.

    1. Yes, breed and location will affect flavour.

      Breeds raised on lush lowland pasture are likely to have a blander taste than breeds raised on uplands where (a) they have to work harder running up and down hills and (b) the grass is not such quality. For choice, I'm always going to buy hill lamb at home and seeing it (and/or particular breeds) on a menu is going to encourage me to order it.

      I've never come across mealy lamb so have absolutely no idea what may have caused it.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Harters

        What are the terms used to describe/identify the various lamb options? Are there many different breeds available? Is this the case across the board or just at higher end shops and restaurants?
        Are some breeds better for specific applications than others or is it that some breeds are better adaptive to hill conditions?

        In the US, at least in my experience, the country of origin is often the only differentiating item. Your explanation of "hill" lamb makes perfect sense. I've never come across a use of that term, or any description of living conditions except "grass fed" "free range" or "organic"

        Lamb is not widely popular in the US and I suspect our production/distribution channels make info on breed, etc. hard to track. As the locavore movement continues I hope we may see more details about lamb.

        1. re: meatn3

          Yes, some breeds are simply better suited to certain conditions. For example, In my own part of the world (north west England), we have a breed of hill sheep, called Herdwicks, which are raised almost exclusively within the county of Cumbria. They are delicious, with a very full flavour (whether lamb, hogget or, particularly, mutton) and fairly readily available in the region, although probably more of a specialist product elsewhere in the country. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herdwick

          But, in general, supermarkets and butchers do not generally label their meat by breed - although country of origin (and, sometimes, region of origin if British) is labelled.

      2. Unless I am buying local lamb from the farmer, I have no way of knowing whether it was totally grass fed or grain fattened.
        That said, I much prefer US lamb to that imported from Australia or New Zealand.
        First, US lamb in season is appreciably fresher than the lamb flown in fresh in gas packs from down under, or brought in by ship frozen.
        I find the imported lamb to be stringier and have less meat to bone ratio than the domestic. I am comparing shoulder blade chops, as they are my chops of choice, I don't use the rib or round bone chops. I also find that the imported chops are prepackaged for retail sale by the importer and the chops are usually much thinner than I require.

        I glagly pay an extra $2 per pound for domestic over the imported. Now, however there is an abundance of domestic lamb, born this spring and ready for slaughter and sale and picked up a supply of choice American Blade chops at my butcher yesterday which were on sale for $4.28 lb. I put 25 pounds away in the freezer for the winter. The Australian were $5.89 lb.

        I also find that the Australian (I seldom see New Zealand lamb in outr area markets/butchers) is darker in color than the domestic. This usually indicates an older animal, maybee no longer lamb, but bordering on mutton.

        I've never run into 'mealy' chops, and wonder if it is an anomoly or particular to the particular herd/breed?

        3 Replies
        1. re: bagelman01

          Bagelman01, you have been misinformed about imported lamb. Australian lamb comes to the US prdominantly as a fresh (chilled not frozen) product and is shipped by seafreight, it takes 40 days to get here, Australian lamb has a chilled shelf life of up to 90 days, this is because Australian processing is extremely hygenic and is processed at a low temperature. If you know about and like "aged" beef you will understand that keeping the product in a vacuum sealed bag for a long period is called wet aging, this is exactly what happens to Australian beef and lamb on the way over here, if you want "fresh" beef or lamb you wont be eating it at an optimum level of tenderness! Also Australian and NZ lamb is slaughtered younger than US, we would slaughter when US lambs come off grass, US lamb is then fed corn and other grains for a further 30-40 days making the lamb not only older but bigger and fatter. NZ lamb industry did an LCA (life cycle assessment) through an independent a NZ lamb shipped to Britian, the findings showed even though lamb is produced and transported by ship half way around the globe it still left a smaller carbon footprint and was more sustainable than British lamb. Basically beef and lamb from downunder is produced mainly for export and we do it very well to over 120 countries. Another important point is Australian lamb is not given any hormones (it is unlawful to do so) and the only time lambs are given antibiotics is when the animal is sick, much like a human the aminal is then quarrantined until better and all residues of the anitbiotics have left the body.

          1. re: sedwards1960

            I was at my local market today to buy lamb chops for dinner. The American were fresh. The Australian were frozen. Even if they were shipped 'chilled' as you write, apparently the distributor is freezing them before distributing them to our local meat markets. Apparently sacrificing 1/2 the shelf life to transporatation is an economic risk the distributor doesn't want to take. The advertisements for two area supermarkets this weekend list "Australian Lamb, previously frozen'

            BTW, I'm not a fan of wet aging meat of any variety. I do dry age some beef, but not veal, lamb or poultry.

            And since there is no chance I'd be buying British lamb here in Connecticut the study comparing the carbon footprint between NZ lamb and British lamb is of little importance to me.
            Finally, grass fed domestic American lamb is available, negating the 30-40 days aging in corn. I often buy grass fed lambs and other animals from a local farm and have them slaughtered and dressed.

            1. re: sedwards1960

              As you point out, the NZ study was sponsored by the NZ sheep industry. Therefore hardly surprising that it reached the conclusion it did.

              I am, of course, happy to accept that NZ lamb is usually cheaper than Britsh lamb - doesnt make me the slightest bit inclined to buy NZ lamb in preference to our own product.

          2. My preference is for Colorado Lamb......but I'll say this. The quality of lamb has much to do with marketing. 30 Years ago, American Lamb was what was mostly available on the market, imported lamb, not so much. As a result, Australian Baby Lamb was considered to be a superior product by many....most likely due to the scarcity of the product, but I also recall the comments centering on the smaller chops and legs were less gamey and delicate in flavor.. With better transportation and breeding operations, both New Zealand and Australian Lamb are now readily available and the tides have turned. Now the NZ/Australian Lamb is more inexpensive than that of North American Lamb and the perception is that it is inferior. I would also add that this was the same perception for American Pork, compared to Danish Pork products back in the early 80's

            How times have changed.

            for the record...my local markets have both American Lamb and Imported Lamb available FRESH every day. Only the smaller/cheaper markets have any lamb in the frozen cases.

            1. As a sheep farmer in the US I am astounded at what seems such a breakdown in information. What I do agree with is geographical location doesn't affect the flavor, climate, environment, what they eat, breed, age, wool or hair sheep all play a role. We all need to do is talk to our farmers. I know some folks don't have access to farmers markets and other folks don't want to pay a premium so I'd suggest a taste testing to find what nuances you like. Whole Foods won't carry anything but NZ and Aussie lamb cause it's the only source of 100% grassfed in any quantity. MOst US farms are small in comparison. We are in North Carolina (there are quite a few sheep in the east) and although biased we raise a superb choice, followed by many. If you've ever done a sidexside wine tasting you should try the same with lamb, I have. There were 8 different breeds represented, all same age and same prep (I cannot attest to terrain) but the flavor were amazingly distinct. Alot of farmers today are raising "hair" breeds(no wool) cause the wool causes another challenge for the farmer. This too will definitely affect flavor, so, like I said...if you love lamb you owe it to the sheep to do your own research...no COUNTRY should have the claim on lamb!

              1 Reply
              1. re: OElder

                I'm a huge fan of lamb. I had some that was locally raised, grass fed and wonderful, but only available twice a year. Due to the difficulty of getting grass fed on a regular basis I try to buy NZ or Aussie lamb, which I know is grass fed. I go to Bristol Farms for most of my meat. They also have great NZ grass fed Waygu beef at a really good price. Animals NOT fed grain are the future. the U.S. government subsidizes corn growers, hence corn fed beef since the 50s. Cows cannot digest corn properly, hence the huge amount of methane going into thermosphere from the feed lots. Also, grass fed beef, rich in Omega 3s (good for you) changes to Omega 6s (bad for you) in a few short weeks in the grain rich feed lot. Grain is bad. Even chickens on grain.