Friday, January 29, 2010

Holy Doodle Batman, Hawk Hill is going High Tech

When personal computers first came out, I was in University... OK I was in graduate school.. but hey I have earned these grey hair. At that point I was a technophobe. I don't think I turned on my Osborne (remember them) for three months after I bought it. Now it is a pretty rare day that I don't spend at least some time on the computer.

The internet has opened incredible training options in webinars, on line journals, discussion groups, training videos. How to vaccinate a lamb is just a click away.

While I am just new to both blogs and social media, I recognize their power in networking people both friends and future clients. That is why I have just started a new Facebook page: Hawk Hill's Lamb Lovers Page. It is a place where those of us who love lamb can share recipes and other information about our favorite food - Lamb.

Check it out and become a fan.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Raising meat animals then and now

I was reorganizing my recipe books (and updating my new recipe page on our website) and I started to read through some of my old recipe books. I was reading a 1950 edition of the Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking School Cook Book. It was very interesting to see what they had to say about beef and chicken. Here are a few quotes.

"The quality of beef depends on the age of the animal and its feeding. The best beef is from a steer 4 to 5 years old."

and Chicken:
"Broilers or spring chickens or squab chickens are young, tender birds (8-14 weeks old). Allow 1/2 small broiler to a person.
Fryers weigh 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 pound (14-20 weeks old). One fryer serves 2 to 4.
Roasters weigh 3 1/2 pounds and over (5-9 months). A 4 pound bird serves 4 to 6.
Capon (unsexed male) usually weigh 7 to 8 pounds and serve 8 generously."

Oh have times changed. Most beef is processed between 12-20 months of age. And with current chicken breeds it is easily possible to have a 9 week old bird dress out at an average of 6 lbs. I have done that myself numerous times. It brings up what we have gained and what we have lost.

I think that one thing we have lost is flavor. A beef animal takes time to develop the marbling throughout the meat and as I mentioned in an earlier post, most of the flavor is in the fat. The gains are obviously quicker turnaround times and reduced feed costs... maybe. To bring an animal to market faster required more concentrated feeds -- grains, higher protein concentrates etc. These feeds cost more than a forage based diet. You can go back and forth on the cost, time argument and much of that depends on location, market etc. A pasture based diet is only inexpensive on cheap farm land. Land prices around much of southwestern Ontario could make a pasture based system very expensive indeed. What it should come down to is what the client wants in their meat and what they are willing to pay for it. We will always be a pasture based management system supplemented with grains to start and then finish the animals. We will process at 2 years of age at the earliest. However we are small enough to allow us the flexibility of breaking from the norm. We will play with our management to make the best flavor and quality in the beef.

Another unexpected loss is quality of leather. A number of years ago, I apprenticed with a harness maker. He bemoaned the fact that it was getting increasingly difficult to get good quality leather. And the reason is that cattle are slaughtered much younger. The hide thickens as the animal ages. (You sure notice this come vaccination time.) Younger animals means thinner hides.

As I mentioned I can raise a roaster sized chicken in 9 weeks. However to do so we give them free access to high protein feed. This year we will reduce the protein level in the feed, and allow them access to pasture. bugs etc. We will see what difference that makes in the flavor of the meat. I know the young roasters were tender and tasty. Lets see what we get with the pasture penned poultry.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Bag of Bones Soup

Many of our clients are new to buying lamb by the side or whole and are unclear as to the process of selecting cuts. We had a very helpful local butcher (who actually teaches butchering) allow us to watch and learn as he processed our lambs. We also have been reading (and cooking) so that we can better advise our clients.

Here is some basic information when ordering lamb.
Unless your supplier is processing a number of lambs at the same time, don't request ground lamb. Almost one pound of meat remains in the grinder and is lost. If you need ground lamb you could process some at home; partially thaw stew meat and run it through your food processor. It won't be perfect but you won't lose as much.

If you want brochette cubes you are going to have to sacrifice a hind leg. This cut provides the best meat for brochettes.

If you want stew meat, the best cut is the shoulder. You could ask for boneless shoulder roast and then cut it for stew meat. However make sure you get the bones back. Cooking the bones in the stew greatly enhances the flavor.

Most of our clients do not want the organ meat. However I recommend they take it anyways. I find the delicate flavour of lamb liver superior to liver from any other animal. It certainly is worth a try. You might find a new addition to your menu.

Many of our clients also don't want the bones. For the most part I think they do not know what to do with them. Soup is the obvious answer. However I want to share some cooking tests that I did with the bones. I love Scotch Broth, a classic lamb based soup so I boiled up a bag of lamb bones. The lamb flavor was weak and totally lost in the soup. When I have made Scotch Broth in the past I have always used the left over leg bone from a roast so the next time I made soup I first roasted the bones in the oven until well browned and then covered them with water and used that to make soup. Wow what a difference. It would have been further improved if I had roasted a few carrots, onions and celery with the bones. Keep an eye on the web site because I will be adding a new recipe for "Bag of Bones Soup". Note: The recipe is now on our web site.

So next time you are ordering a lamb, take it all. It sure will add more tasty diversity to your menu.

Cheers and good eating,