Eating seasonally seems so obvious when it comes to fruit and vegetables but what about if we consider the same approach with meat? How do we know when "the right time" is to ensure it's at its tender best? One company that shows the strictest adherence to seasonality, making sure their product is eaten only when it is at its finest is Coastal Spring Lamb, whose lamb is available for only 12 weeks. When we sampled their spring lamb cuts we realised what all the fuss was about - sweet and juicy, tinged with salt from the sea spray the coastal farms are exposed to, tender beyond your wildest dreams. There's a reason why our best chefs and restaurants (TriBeCa, Euro, The Commons, dine by Peter Gordon and more) are taking notice of this meat and putting it on their menus and we caught up with farmer Richard Redmayne, of Tunnel Hill farm, one of the four farmers who make up the group of family-run farms on the rugged west coast of the North Island to, find out more.
When did you stop exporting your spring lamb?
Historically NZ spring lamb from our properties was sent to Europe but we found we were feeling disconnected from our customers, so three years ago we made the decision to keep this spring lamb, all of it, in the country for New Zealanders to enjoy. This is a seasonal delicacy we shouldn't be missing out on. It's only available from November until January, a mere 12 weeks, and we thought New Zealanders deserved to be eating the best of what this land produces.
Are all lambs created equal?
Generally the first lambs of the season are the best because they've been given the best feed. They're the most succulent. Traditionally these are considered the best for export so we, in NZ, were left with lambs that were really the last-season's, meaning they were actually about 10 months old.
Why is your lamb so popular with the top butchers and chefs?
All four farms in our group are located on the coast so it's warmer, meaning we can lamb earlier, therefore restaurants and butchers can start selling it early. And being coastal means the saltiness in the air ends up on the pastures and ultimately in the flavour of the lamb.
Are there strict criteria for it to be labelled with "Coastal Spring Lamb"?
Each lamb is hand-selected and only around 8000 each season make the grade for "Coastal Spring Lamb" so it is a premium product. We follow a strict protocol of no growth hormones, no promotants and no antibiotics and all of this is reflected in the flavour. I think that's what the butchers and chefs appreciate, that the meat is top quality and great to work with.
And the best way to cook a rack of lamb?
My wife does it perfectly.
* Coastal Spring Lamb is available from this week, until January 2013, at Neat Meat in Parnell, Westmere Butchery in Westmere and selected New World supermarkets, as well as at selected Auckland restaurants.