An introduction to Michigan lamb
Consider expanding your menu to include this local delicacy.
Lamb is meat from a sheep that is less than one year old, while “mutton” is used to define meat from a sheep that is one year old or older. The American Sheep Industry Association states that lamb has a milder flavor than mutton. Lamb is packed with protein and is a good source of B vitamins and zinc. Lamb meat comes in many forms from ground, to chops, shanks, and the popular rack of lamb.
According to the Michigan Ag Council, there are approximately 2,000 sheep producers in Michigan and 80,000 head of sheep. The Michigan Sheep Producers Association has a helpful directory of producers on their website.
The Grand Rapids Business Journal reported in 2013 that lamb consumption in the U.S. has been declining since World War II, however, people with Middle Eastern heritage and/or diets tend to consume more than the average American. Another interesting fact about lamb is that people of Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths all eat lamb.
Sharon Schierbeek, co-owner of S & S Lamb based in McBain, MI says most Michigan shepherds tend towards late winter and early spring lambing. That means lambs would be mature for harvesting around five to six months later depending on how they are fed. Despite these production practices, Michigan lamb is often available year-round so it is best ask for availability before making assumptions. Schierbeek says S & S Lamb is launching a new website this month where people can order cuts of Michigan lamb for delivery to the Grand Rapids area. They are also offering shipping to other parts of the state and U.S.
Michigan State University Extension’s Michigan Fresh campaign offers a free fact sheet on best practices for cooking, marinating and freezing lamb. Michigan Fresh offers a series of approximately 80 factsheets on a variety of Michigan grown foods. The entire series can be found at https://www.canr.msu.edu/mi_fresh/.
For those wanting a good recipe to introduce your family to lamb, you might want to try ground lamb, which can be used to make burgers or tacos. The American Lamb website has a large variety of recipes posted, including one for grilled rack of lamb. Schierbeek says lamb loins are her favorite cut of meat because it is the most tender cut. If you want to make something for a special event, consider this recipe for lamb loin marinated in Guinness and honey.
MSU Extension’s Community Food Systems team provides resources for consumers and producers to grow Michigan’s food system. To learn more about the benefits of purchasing local food or resources to support farmers and farmers markets in your community, visit www.canr.msu.edu/outreach or contact an expert in your area by calling our toll free number at 888-678-3464.