What’s America’s deal with lamb?
Sustainably raised American lamb boasts great flavor, superior marbling and nutritional benefits. With so much going for it, why haven’t Americans wholeheartedly embraced the protein? Valerie Samutin’s trying to figure it out.
Through her Freedom Run Farm Consortium, Samutin is working hard to change the impression many people seem to have about lamb. In 2016, she assembled a passionate group of 30 multi-generation farmers, shepherds and chefs across her home state of Kentucky to support fellow industry partners, advocate for sustainable farming practices and increase access to premium lamb products.
These are some of the most common reasons Americans may shy away from trying lamb.
Lack of familiarity and access.
The simple truth is that the majority of Americans just don’t know much about lamb. They haven’t grown up eating it, and they haven’t seen it on menus or at the grocery store. Therefore, they’re happy to remain ensconced within their beef-pork-chicken comfort zones when it comes to dining.
“The average American consumer hasn’t really had access and the opportunity to eat good, fresh lamb all year long,” Samutin points out. “That’s what we’re trying to achieve.”
Although lamb is more readily available now than it’s been in the past, it still doesn’t enjoy the year-round accessibility other meats like steak and chicken do, especially in smaller markets and general stores.
A bad previous experience.
Lamb definitely has its own distinctive taste that not everyone appreciates.
“Imported product from Australia and New Zealand comprises about 60 to 70 percent of our lamb here in the U.S.,” Samutin says. “The American Lamb Board did a study about five years ago and found that lamb’s flavor profile at the time was considered gamey and odorous — just not very palatable.”
It’s not cheap.
It’s true, lamb — especially a premium product — can be more expensive than other widely purchased proteins, which may lead budget-conscious shoppers to go for lower-priced meat options.
As with veal, some consumers may find it hard to stomach the idea of eating animals that have been butchered at a young age.
Now for some good news. If you’ve never tasted lamb, or it’s been a while since your last experience with it, here are a few good reasons to give it a fresh go.
American-raised lamb (especially heritage breeds like the Katahdin) has come a long way in recent years, and there’s never been a better time to sample the goods. Unlike more aggressively flavored imported products, customers are often pleasantly surprised to find modern American lamb mild and sweet with a tender marbled texture. To assure you’re buying an American product, look for cuts from a regional farmer or producer next time you’re at a farmers’ market or specialty/gourmet food shop.
Improved farming practices.
Lamb shepherds like those within the Freedom Run Farm Consortium are dedicated to supporting sustainable agriculture through farming methods that focus on regenerative grazing, animal welfare and the avoidance of hormones and antibiotics.
It’s easier to find.
Although imported products still hold a strong market position, American lamb is becoming more widely distributed thanks to the efforts of groups like Samutin’s. Again, when shopping, read the labels closely to find out exactly where the meat has been sourced from.
It’s good for you.
Lamb boasts a number of nutritional benefits. At 160 calories, a three-ounce serving of lean lamb meat is an excellent source of iron, zinc, selenium and B vitamins, and delivers a whopping 23 grams of protein, covering half of the recommended daily amount.