Slice, serve, and enjoy!
Serves 8-12 people
Slice, serve, and enjoy!
Serves 8-12 people
The biggest occasions deserve the best meats in America. Like all of our meats, our centerpieces are raised humanely, on pasture without antibiotics or hormones, and produce the best natural flavor and texture you have ever experienced. These are not your grandma’s pot roast — our beef ribeye, rack of lamb, tenderloin, porchetta, and cured hams are the best of their kind, easy to cook, and sensational to serve for family dinner or the most elegant holidays. And did we mention the leftovers?
Some meats just seem more festive than others, but you can always count on pleasing the crowd with a Heritage roast or centerpiece. We find beef tenderloin, aka filet mignon, to be perfect for elegant dinner parties. Pork tenderloin, too, is an exquisite focal point for any occasion. Our custom made, hand-rolled porchetta, is a rare treat — crispy and rich and an impressive showstopper for even the meat connoisseur. Leg of lamb, and the celebrated rack of lamb, are perhaps the most festive centerpieces of them all, fit for a royal banquet! Of course cured hams and whole chickens never fail to please, whether it’s a holiday, Sunday dinner, or just a weeknight treat. The best part is that they are all easy to prepare — and spectacular to present!
A ten pound leg of lamb may seem like a challenge next to a 14 oz. pork chop, but we are here to tell you, don’t worry! Here is the best advice from the Heritage Team and our network of chefs:
There is no wrong way to cook great meat, but we recommend keeping it simple. Just use salt and pepper and your favorite herbs as primary seasoning. We love beef with just salt and pepper, but lamb also loves rosemary and thyme. Pork, too, loves a creative touch, but remember: this is the very best heritage meat in the world, and the flavor is already there, a product of the best breeds, farmed traditionally. There is nothing to hide, the taste says it all.
This is an EPIC story about the oldest domesticated livestock breed in the United States, a story that spans 500 years, and hopefully ends on on your plate.
Antonio Manzanares is one of the last remaining Churro shepherds in the Southwest, and he herds these animals in the traditional style, with little concession to modern farming.
This year, for the first time, Heritage Foods USA is proud to announce that it is making Navajo-Churro lamb a featured product for its retail and restaurant customers, a giant step in saving this rare and exquisite breed. Navajo-Churro lambs are prized for their incredible depth of flavor, as well as their long wool, which commands top prices in woven Navajo rugs.
The Navajo Sheep Association, dedicated to the preservation of these sheep, says that “No other sheep population in the history of the world has survived such selective pressure with such dignity and spirit.”
From Noble Roots
The Churro were brought to America from Spain by Francisco Coronado in 1540. The sheep were bred largely for food for the explorers and the missionaries who followed them throughout the region that is now Mexico and the southwestern United States. By 1807 a single flock of Spanish sheep could number 20,000.
At that time Native Americans had no livestock agriculture of their own — there were no domesticated animals in North America yet. Native Americans were still largely hunters and gatherers, but they quickly learned how to raise sheep both for the meat and the Churro’s thick, double-sided fleece and long haired wool.
In the 1860s, the Navajo-Churro sheep population was nearly destroyed as part of the United States government’s efforts to punish the Navajo people who resisted the new wave of Western settlers moving onto their land. The government ordered military action, led by American “heroes” Kit Carson and John Carlton, with instructions to destroy Navajo orchards and flocks. The results were a bloody swath of death and pain.
The Return of the Navajo-Churro
This year, Heritage Foods, in cooperation with John Sharpe, a pioneer in the preservation of rare breeds and the chef at the Turquoise Room at La Posada hotel — a gorgeously restored train station and historic site in Winslow, Arizona — is working to bring this breed back to the American market.
The Churro is smaller than many other sheep and is noteworthy for its especially herbaceous and savory flavor, with a lower lanolin content than many lambs, which can give the meat a gamy flavor. The Churro is also remarkably tender – even cuts like the shoulder and legs that sometimes call for braising can be roasted and served medium rare like the loin chops or the rib rack.
Shepherding: The second oldest profession
These animals are a reflection of the ground upon which they were raised. Heritage Foods’ Churro lamb is truly free range, raised in Navajo country and in the mountains of New Mexico, and herded in the traditional style. There is very little hay feeding in the winter, as they are grazed at lower elevations.
Antonio Manzanares is one of the few shepherds left breeding Navajo-Churro: “We trail through the mountains in the summer and back in winter. They can get a little wild, but they herd well. The Churro is a smaller animal, leaner than other sheep – I have many customers, such as John Sharpe, who swear that the Churro is a very different tasting lamb.”
It’s no secret that the back story helps sell the lamb — from its arrival to the New World, the drive to save the breed from extinction, and traditional shepherding practices.
Heritage Foods works closely with John Sharpe on our Navajo-Churro project. John is a pioneer in the preservation of rare breeds, and the chef at the Turquoise Room at La Posada hotel — a gorgeously restored train station and historic site in Winslow, Arizona.
“My other shepherds are both women, and both weavers,” says John, who serves Churro, nose-to-tail, in tacos, posole, and grilled. “Irene Bennally is actually a famous shepherd and weaver, she was featured in the New York Times – you can pay her and she’ll take you with her shepherding and camping.”
You can read the New York Times article here
And please contact Heritage Foods to get a taste of this incredible lamb, as delicious as it is part of a great American legacy.
Ryan’s recipe sounds delicious! We love the simplicity of Roasted Leg of Lamb. Try this recipe for a citrus twist on an old classic. The key is marinating the meat overnight and cooking the roast low and slow. This recipe is great in the oven, and also does wonderful on the grill.
Young Tunis lambs at Tamarack Vermont Sheep Farm bask in the warm spring sun.
Farmers affectionately refer to the birthing of baby lambs as ‘lambing’. Early spring is the traditional time for lambing, giving the young lambs time to fully develop before the challenges of winter set in.
In the winter lambs are kept close to the barn so they have solid shelter from storms. In the spring the growing flock is released into fresh paddocks to enjoy tender clovers and grasses as the forage develops in summer fields. By the time summer comes the flock is has grown more independent and is ready to move on to well established grasses in more distant ranges.
Spring lambing is convenient for the farmer as ewes reach maturity within 5-12 months of birth. Sheep are typically bred once a year, in the fall. Ewes bred in the fall will carry for about 5 months and timed right lambing will occur just after the last snow.
Chris and Ray Wilson, along with their daughter Sarah, have been raising sheep on their farm in Northeastern Tennessee for nearly 20 years. As a child of farmers, Chris hopes to one day pass down the farm to her own daughter. As she explained, “That is what you farm for – to pass it on to the next generation.” Clover Creek Farm spans 50 acres of land at an elevation of about 1650 feet. Chris, Ray and Sarah practice sustainable agriculture but when Chris found the land nearly 20 years ago, the land had been depleted by previous conventional farms and was completely over grown. Chris spent 5 years restoring the land and creek; with a focus on soil recovery and establishing the native grasses so it would be a sustainable farm. Chris was named Conservation Farmer of the Year in 1999 for her efforts.
Clover Creek Katahdin sheep graze on native grasses, such as blue grass, and clovers that are abundant in the Tennessee area. They are born outside and spend their entire life grazing with their mothers. Following the motto “farming in harmony with nature,” Chris raises her sheep using rotational grazing methods. Chris and Ray take pride in their lambs, explaining, “The lamb are not a commodity. We put a lot of work and effort in to give them the best life possible.”
The Katahdin sheep is the result of the innovative thinking of a Maine farmer named Michael Piel. In the 1950’s, Piel brought three sheep from St. Croix in the Caribbean to his farm. He crossed these “African hair sheep,” as they were known, with his own flock of “Down” breeds (more typical wooly meat sheep found in New England), producing a lambs he called Katahdin after the highest mountain in Maine. The Katahdin does not need to be sheared and produces a well-muscled, lean but meaty carcass. The Katahdin lamb is a meat breed and not a wool breed, making it especially flavorful and delicious with nutty, full flavor.
The Katahdin/White Dorper is a crossbreed bred by Joseph Hubbard at Shannon Creek Ranch in the Flint Hills of Kansas. The Dorper has a lot more muscle than the Katahdin. Combined you get a meaty lamb with the mild taste of the Katahdin….
Lamb Breed Histories and Heritage Lamb Taste Chart
It’s hard not to respect a breed that was referenced numerous times in the Bible (see fat-tailed sheep) and is reputed to be 3000 years old. It’s even harder to imagine the Tunis not being completely delicious since the first three U.S. presidents raised and consumed them.
John Adams mentioned the breed in his diary in 1782 when the Tunis had an excellent reputation for delicious mutton — and tail (not sold today!). Thomas Jefferson ordered the importation of a second herd from Tunisia because he loved them so much he thought they should be more readily available. George Washington bred them —one of his early legacies was the proliferation of his particular Tunis crossbreed on farms and dinner tables along the East Coast.
The tail is now smaller and the color ranges from tan-to-red with the occasional white spot on the head and tail. Ewes usually birth twins although the Tunis still remains on the ALBC-USA.org Conservation Priority List. The Tunis is an excellent ambassador breed for the grass-fed movement – they don’t like to eat a lot of grain.
The Dorset Horn is a breed of sheep that spread over Dorset, Somerset, Devon, and most of Wales. In 1750 this is the breed the English with a fine palate would eat for Christmas! Today we eat it more frequently because the Dorset Horn is able to give birth three times a year. Dorsets tolerate heat well, and heat tolerance contributes to the rams’ ability to breed earlier in the season than rams of other breeds. This contributes to the Dorset Horn being a very profitable sheep to grow although it remains on the Threatened List of the ALBC-USA.org website.
The Hudson Bay Company first shipped the Dorset Horn to America in the 1860s. But it was a livestock show in Chicago a few years later that made it famous. The Dorset Horn is known for its healthy appetite and thrives on the lush pastures of Vermont where Ben Machin and Grace Bowmer raise a herd.
The Katahdin is inextricably linked to Michael Piel of Abbott, Maine who had the brilliant idea of separating out the wool producing side of the lamb business from the meat side. Wool production took time and energy from both the animals and the farmers while only providing about 10 percent of the farmer’s income. In addition wool creates a more pungent and muttony taste in the meat.
Piel imported three hair sheep from the Virgin Islands and bred them with various breeds like Tunis and Suffolk in an effort to produce a sheep that excels in taste. The result of the crossbreeding efforts finally produced a flock so perfect that it became the foundation for a herd and eventually the Katahdin breed that is raised around the country. Piel named it after a mountain in Maine even though the breed excels in hotter climates. The Katahdin is known to live a long time while remaining productive. There are now a couple of hundred U.S. breeders of the Katahdin including our very own Chris Wilson of Clover Creek who has worked with us for almost a decade.
The Katahdin serves land conservation projects very well and are perfect for grass-fed systems like that found in Northeastern Tennessee where Chris has won awards for land conservation.
The Churro was perhaps the first domesticated animal in the Americas when the Spanish brought it here in the 1500s. The animal quickly became a big part of Hispanic and Native American ways of life. One of the few positive legacies of Spanish conquerors was the lamb breeds they left here, especially at missions, as they searched for gold. It was these very sheep that the Navajo and other Native Americans stole and purchased making them a part of their way of life and diet.
The Navajo-Churro produces excellent wool and meat. It was Navajo women who owned the sheep, the grazing rights and the wool, which became an important source of income. The Navajo-Churro existed in great numbers here until the government killed off most of the population in their war with Native Americans. The breed currently sits on the Threatened List of the ALBC-USA.org website.
Today many of the residents of the Navajo reservation continue to raise sheep for wool and food. Dr. Lyle McNeal played a crucial role in increasing their population in the 1970s despite the fact that conditions in that part of the country are harsh.
The Katahdin/White Dorper is a crossbreed bred by Joseph Hubbard at Shannon Creek Ranch in the Flint Hills of Kansas. The Dorper has a lot more muscle than the Katahdin. Combined you get a meaty carcass with the mild taste of the Katahdin.
Heritage Foods USA consideres the Flint Hills to be the best terroir for grass-fed animal farming in the U.S. The Flint Hills are band of hills that stretches from eastern Kansas into north-central Oklahoma, extending from Marshall and Washington Counties in Kansas in the north, to Cowley County in Kansas and Kay and Osage Counties in Oklahoma in the south.
Anywhere tallgrass grows makes for a great and sus-tainable terroir for grass-fed sheep, but what makes the Flint Hills our number-one choice is that it boasts the most dense cover-age of intact tallgrass prairie in North America and has blossomed into a mosaic of independent family farms— many of which are at the heart of the heritage breed movement.
Tallgrass is the food the prairie produces naturally in the absence of intensive row-crop agriculture. Unlike corn, tallgrass is not dependent on petrochemical fertilizer or herbicide, and its roots run deep below the thin layer of topsoil. It is potent, incredibly resilient, the all-you-can-eat salad bar for healthy sheep. And they love it, gladly eating pounds of the stuff every day.
The result of this robust food supply is a meat with a nice even ratio of intra- and extramuscular fat, a clean taste, a natural delight. It is the taste of the Americas.
Varietals like Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Indiangrass, Switchgrass, Prairie Dropseed, and Sideoats Grama have stalks whose profound roots are able to pull moisture and nutrients from deep within the ground, making them the best candidates to withstand the drought and deluge likely to accompany climate change. They are resistant to all types of extreme weather, and they bounce back quickly, even from fires. And they do not rely on the dwindling power of the thin layer of topsoil to grow.
The way you cut your meat reflects the way you live.
Of an average eight-hundred-pound steer on the rail, I’ve seen between 20 and 80 percent turned into ground. It’s very simple: The more meat that is ground, the fewer pieces the farmer needs to worry about selling. There are a hundred ways to cut up a cow, but how great is it when the farmer only has to worry about a few?
This all goes for lamb as well — if domestic lamb is ever going to become a growth market (instead of our importing it from New Zealand), we need to eat more ground lamb. And it also goes for goats, a great protein source and a potential profit center for independent family farmers because goats are low-maintenance livestock.
You can even grind your own meat and bring the movement right into your home. Why not? Become an expert mixologist! A good grinder will bring new life to any meat. In the meantime, try our delicious ground beef or combo breed packs!
Our Top 3 favorite ways of using Heritage Foods USA ground meat.
To defrost, submerge in pot of cold water (about 20 minutes).
1. Season ground meat with Omnivore’s Salt and mix together. Form into patties and add to hot pan (no oil) on very high heat. Brown the first side for just a few minutes then flip burger to brown the other side. Cook until just burgundy red on the inside (just a couple of minutes if flat patty). Add to hamburger buns that have been toasted with American cheese singles on each side.
2. Start boiling water for pasta. Sautee a nice pile of garlic shavings in a small amount of olive oil until golden brown. Add tomato sauce and 3 chopped anchovies over low heat. Meanwhile, brown your ground meat over high heat in hot pan (no oil) just for a few minutes until evenly browned. Add to sauce and cook for 10 minutes. Serve over pasta (we recommend Baia Pasta!). Add salt and pepper to taste.
3. Combine one and two and make two main courses for dinner.
For the sustainable food movement to make an impact on America’s most unhealthy eating habits, we are going to have to play the game of convenience and infiltrate the territory traditionally staked out by McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, and their ilk. The above meals take a few minutes to make and boast the lowest portion cost in the food world.
Ben Machin grew up in Vermont on a small organic homestead where his family grew their own food and produced apple juice, apple cider vinegar, and maple syrup for market. After some years working for the US Forest Service as a Smokejumper, Ben came back to Vermont to study and work on various natural conservation projects. Eventually he rekindled his interest in farming.