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ALB brings awareness to buying, preparing lamb with February Lamb Lover’s month

Written by Natasha Wheeler

February is Lamb Lover’s Month, according to the American Lamb Board (ALB), who is sponsoring the “What’s Your Lamb Language of Love” contest on Facebook.

“Take our quiz and win a romantic weekend getaway for two in New York City,” says ALB.

By taking the short quiz, contestants are entered for the drawing and directed to a page of recipes.

Buying lamb

“Buying and preparing lamb is really easy. It’s in one of the top 10 foods that people think is hard to cook, but it isn’t any more difficult than beef,” comments Becky Gitthens of the Mountain States Lamb Cooperative (MSLC) in Douglas.

“When buying lamb, look for a soft pink to red coloring with a little bit of white marbling, which will give the lamb flavor,” Gitthens says.

Although it is sometimes difficult to find in Wyoming, consumers can ask for lamb in the store.

“Safeway carries Cedar Springs, which is a Mountain States brand,” she adds.

Lamb can also be purchased from the MSLC office in Douglas and can be shipped throughout the U.S.

Cooking and seasoning

“We also offer pre-seasoned cuts,” Gitthens notes. “Lamb picks up seasoning better than other proteins so we can do a lot with it.”

She adds that it marinates easily and does well with spice rubs.

“Grilling is one of my favorite ways to cook lamb,” she states, suggesting chops or burgers.

This time of year, slow roasting is another good option.

“There is nothing better for Valentine’s Day than a rack of lamb. It is really good on the grill, but it can also be done in the oven,” suggests Gitthens.

In a 325-degree oven, it takes about 15 to 20 minutes per pound to get medium-rare lamb.

“The key is not to overcook it,” she says.

Recipes

There are also new cuts  of lamb and recipes that many consumers are unaware of. The ALB website features examples such as Greek nachos, tandoori lamb steaks and barbecued lamb shoulder.

For grilling, roasting or braising, “We’ve got hundreds of delicious lamb recipes to tempt your taste buds,” says ALB.

Lamb comes from animals that are one year old or younger, which means that the meat is tender.

“We don’t have tenderness problems like other proteins,” explains Gitthens.

Health

There are also many health benefits to eating lamb.

“Lamb really fits the health-conscious consumer,” Gitthens says.

A three-ounce serving is only 175 calories and contains nearly half of the daily recommended requirement for protein.

“There are no synthetic growth hormones in American lamb,” she adds.

Lamb also contains vitamin B12, niacin, zinc and selenium, with nearly five times the omega-3 fatty acids and alpha linoleic acid of an equivalent serving of beef.

“Forty percent of the fat in a lean cut of lamb is mono-unsaturated, which is the kind of fat that is in olive oil,” she adds.

On average, a three-ounce serving of lamb contains fewer than 10 grams of fat and meets the Food and Drug Administration definition of lean meat.

Environment

Raising lamb is also beneficial for the environment.

“They clear forage that can be a fire hazard,” notes Gitthens.

Sheep grazing improves pasture and rangeland by recycling nutrients back into the soil, minimizing erosion and encouraging native plant growth, according to ALB’s website.

“Sheep keep moving, and people can hardly tell they’ve been there,” comments Gitthens.

Grasses tend to be the last thing that grazing sheep look for, meaning they would rather eat weeds and forbs.

“They go after the stuff with oils in it first,” she says.

The ALB website mentions that wineries often use sheep to graze the weeds in the vineyards.

“Sheep are easy on the land, and grazing is sustainable,” states Gitthens.

Economic value

Lamb and sheep are also historically significant in U.S. Gitthens recently visited a conference with the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI), which is celebrating its 150th anniversary.

“ASI is the oldest livestock organization in the U.S.,” she explains.

The first group of sheep producers was organized in 1865, right after the Civil War and after Lincoln was assassinated.

“The sheep industry is really important to our Wyoming economy and to our national history,” she states.

Although it is not always easy to find in stores and restaurants, Wyoming is one of the top five lamb-producing states.

“The highest per capita consumption is in the northeast, but we see the demand for lamb growing across the U.S.,” she comments.

There is also a growing market for lamb among younger consumers who want to try different foods and are looking for a quality eating experience.

“In New York City, I can hardly pick up a menu that doesn’t have at least two or three lamb selections,” she explains.

It disappoints her that there isn’t more lamb on local menus, where the protein is part of the economy and landscape.

“Any restaurant in Wyoming that is interested in lamb should give a call to my office,” she states.

Promotion

Gitthens is hopeful that the market will grow in the state. MSLC visited a recent fall festival in Jackson and served samples of lamb to over 700 people.

“Many of them said they didn’t eat lamb, but when we got them to try it, almost 100 percent were amazed at how good it was,” she says.

People tend to remember one bad experience with lamb and never try it again, maybe because it was too fatty or they remember mutton.

“A poor hamburger doesn’t keep people from eating another hamburger,” she explains.

One bad experience shouldn’t prevent people from trying more lamb, or from looking into all of the versatile ways in which lamb can be prepared.

“As a co-op, we are constantly marketing lamb and promoting it,” she comments.

MSLC’s meat company, Mountain States Rosen has been working with food bloggers and social media to raise awareness for their product.

“Back in November, we topped 9,000 fans on Facebook,” she notes.

Mountain States also has a presence on Pinterest, Twitter and BuzzFeed.

“We want people to try lamb for the first time, again,” Gitthens says.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at natasha@wylr.net