Tag: Navajo-Churro


The Oldest Domesticated Livestock in the United States: Navajo-Churro

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.

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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.

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.

Click here to order The Southwest Navajo-Churro Package.  13-15 lb, All cuts are individually packed!

Ben Machin & Grace Bowmer of Tamarack Vermont Sheep Farm

Print  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.
 

Tunis Ewes, 1931 New York State Fair.
Tunis Ewes, 1931 New York State Fair.

Raising sheep has been in Ben’s blood for generations. His great-grandfather, Eddy Liddell and his wife Nealie, started a Tunis flock in the 1920s. The Tunis flock grew overs the years, winning many awards at local fairs, and providing thousands of lambs for market. In the 1940s Ben’s grandfather Herb began to work with Dorset Horn sheet as part of a 4-H project. The farm kept the breeds pure while managing them side-by-side. In 2006, Ben had a conversation with his grandfather, Herb, during Herb’s final days that encouraged Ben to dedicate himself to revitalizing the family flock. Ben’s decision to purchase the flock ensured that they would remain a family legacy. Ben is the forth generation to manage Tunis and Dorset Horn sheep.
 

Grace Bowmer & Ben Machin
Grace Bowmer & Ben Machin

Grace Bowmer joined Ben in 2008 with a background in architecture, site design, landscaping and gardening. Together they purchased land and built a barn. They were ready to get serious about sheep. The Tamarack Sheep Farm is close to where Ben’s parents live and he remains involved in his childhood homestead.
 
More photos of the idyllic Tamarack Vermont Sheep Farm.

Mediterranean Lamb Meatball Recipe from The Meatball Shop!

When the Meatball Shop first opened THIS was their very first daily special. 4 years, and 5 new locations later we still get excited when they bring them back! The raisins and walnuts give these meatballs a subtle sweet and earthy quality that complements perfectly our heritage lamb. Make these into mini balls and pass them around at your next party, or try our favorite– Smash ’em between two pieces of crusty bread for a quick slider!

Meatballs

2 TABLESPOONS OLIVE OIL
2 POUNDS GROUND LAMB
3 LARGE EGGS
1 CUP DARK RAISINS
½ WALNUTS, FINELY CHOPPED
½ CUP CHOPPED FREASH PARSLEY
½ CUP CHOPPED FRESH MINT
½ BREAD CRUMBS
2 TEASPOONS SALT
1 TEASPOON FRESHLY GROUND BLACK PEPPER

  • Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Drizzle the olive oil into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and use your hands to evenly coat the entire surface. Set aside. Combine remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl, and mix by hand until thoroughly incorporated.
  • Roll the mixture into round, golf-ball-size meatballs (about 1½ inches; about 24 balls), making sure to pack the meat firmly. Place the balls in the prepared baking dish, being careful to line them up snugly and in even rows vertically and horizontally to form a grid. The meatballs should be touching one another.
  • Roast for 20 minutes, or until firm and cooked through.
  • Allow to cool for 5 minutes before servings.

Lamb Breed Histories and Tasting Notes

Lamb Breed Histories and Tasting Notes

Want a hot recipe? Choose a lovely, well- sourced piece of meat — from a farm you know, and from a breed you have come to love, and add fire. Et voilà! There’s your recipe. Just remember, the fire is the constant, the meat is the variable. We believe in the formation of breed charts that describe the gastronomic wonders of every livestock variety. “One 32-ounce flank steak” as the prime mover in a recipe is not enough information. Heritage Foods USA is an ingredient- based philosophy.
 

TUNIS

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.

 

Taste Notes for the Tunis:

Subtle
Lean
Woodsy and Rootsy
Not lamby or pungent
Smooth
Bouncy texture
Silky
Taste seasoned without seasoning
Herby
Minerally
Notes of fresh buttermilk

 

DORSET HORN

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.

 

Taste Notes for the Dorset Horn

Fresh
Great fat/meat ratio
Gamey in the best way
Olive oil
Floral aftertaste
Lavender
Lamby and sweet
Round

 

KATAHDIN

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.

 

Taste Notes for the Katahdin

Savory
Mushroomy
Honey
Clover
Spicy and peppery
Creamy fat
Barky and woody

 

NAVAJO-CHURRO

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.

 

Taste Notes Navajo-Churro

Rich
Hearty
Earthy
Herby
Tangy
Silky
Mustard Seed
Spicy

 

KATAHDIN/WHITE DORPER

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.

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