Spring has pulled asparagus back on to menus and Coastal Spring Lamb, a Wanganui initiative, hits the supermarket shelves to accompany it on Monday.
It's the third year of promotion for the Coastal Spring Lamb brand, the brainchild of Turakina farmer Richard Redmayne.
The lamb comes from five farms this year - Mr Redmayne's, the O'Neill farm in the Whangaehu Valley, a farm at Tangimoana, a farm at Hawera and a farm inland from Hastings in Hawke's Bay. They are all intergenerational family farms.
All the meat is processed at Land Meat in Wanganui, and this year it's being sold in all lower North Island New World supermarkets, 20 Auckland New Worlds and 10 South Island New Worlds. It's also at four selected butchers in New Zealand, a limited amount is available online in Hong Kong and wholesalers Neat Meat and Chef's Choice will be offering it to restaurants again this year. Wanganui's Red Lion Inn is one of them, and chef Sam Jones is working on a new signature dish.
Mr Redmayne is in discussions with a party in Europe, with a view to possible export, and has signs advertising the lamb on SH1 and SH3 near Bulls and Turakina.
He said it was heartening that New World supermarkets, part of the Foodstuffs Co-operative, had asked Coastal Spring Lamb to be "part of the family". The stores have made radio, print and video material explaining and promoting it.
A group of 50 of those involved - farmers, butchers and retailers - got together a month ago. They dined on the first spring lamb, cooked by Beef + Lamb New Zealand ambassador chef Scott Kennedy at Nero Restaurant and Bar in Palmerston North. Then they toured three of the farms and Land Meat's boning room at Westmere. The farmers, butchers and retailers now have a good idea of what the others want.
All the farms involved are in warm, coastal places. They lamb early, from mid-June to mid-July, and have 90- to 100-day-old lambs ready to kill as early as October. Most of their stock was gone by the time last season's drought hit.
This year the farms will supply 12,000 to 15,000 lambs to the brand, from now until the end of January. So far 1700 have been killed, about a third of those from Hawke's Bay.
The mild winter has been kind to lambs, and they are about three weeks more advanced than usual.
Mr Redmayne expects to travel widely to tastings as the season unrolls.