Welcoming Margra Lamb to the fold
After years of drought during which many farms de-stocked and lamb has been in short supply, we're very pleased to be welcoming a new lamb supplier into the fold. (We city folk tend to see a few weeks of rain and assume that the drought is history, but it takes years for the land to recover from a drought as severe as the one that brought Eastern Australia to its knees over the last three years. Lamb continues to be in short supply across the country.)
But we're also excited because this lamb provides a distinct and unusual eating and cooking experience.
Margra Lamb comes from Tattykeel Stud, breeders of the Australian White, a popular, robust, self-shedding sheep that grows hair not wool and thrives on a pasture diet in a wide variety of conditions both here and overseas - even as far as inner Mongolia. The Gilmores, the family behind Tattykeel, flushed with the success of the Australian White, decided to develop a separate line that both protects the integrity of the breed and amplifies the eating qualities of the pure Australian White.
The result is Margra Lamb, a resilient, fertile and fast-growing sheep, pasture-fed and finished, that yields a fine-textured meat with a high level of intra-muscular and subcutaneous fat that melts at very low temperature. It also has a high level of Omega-3 long chain fatty acids (the good ones) that store moisture and add flavour.
Our matchmaker in this relationship is the chef, Mark Best, who is Margra's 'culinary ambassador' and who knows a thing or two about food, and we’ve been courting for a while. Mark got into bed with the Gilmores after trying Margra Lamb and becoming so smitten that he sought them out to find out why it's so good.
Despite Mark's alluring ways, we're quite careful about who we hook up with and we like to take our time to be sure.
So, first we received a whole Margra carcass which was interesting in itself. We happened to have a few Aussie Whites from another farm hanging in our coolroom at the same time and it was clear by comparison that the pure-bred Margra lamb was different. Though younger, it was larger, carried more fat and was slightly different in conformation. (Graham Gilmore examined both carcasses and, with his sharp, veteran breeder's eye, declared that the difference was due to the fact that the other lamb probably contained less than 50% Australian White genetics.) We hung the Margra lamb for two weeks, then butchered and cooked it to see if Mark’s extravagant claims held true.
They did, and then some.
The meat is fine-textured and delicious, but it's the fat that's really distinct - flavoursome and delicate and more neutral than most lamb fat, more like heritage pork than lamb. The low melting temperature means it behaves quite differently when cooked - it puffs up, softens and crisps on the outside. Delicious.
We were definitely interested. But then we had to meet the family.
So last weekend we hit the road on our first farm trip out of Sydney since lockdown at the end of March. I was so excited I nearly ran the car off the road. Our first stop on Saturday was Tathra Place Farm (more about that later), followed by the Gilmore family’s Tattykeel farm near Oberon on Sunday. This is beautiful, high, Central Tablelands country, all gentle rolling hills and, thanks to recent rain, mercifully verdant.
At Tattykeel on Sunday, Graham took us on a tour of the properties where we saw lots of sheep, many in various stages of undress. Margra Lambs are covered in hair (not wool) and are self-shedding. This is a desirable attribute in our climate but the hair tends to come off in trailing patches which makes them look a bit like dishevelled debutantes after a hard night's partying at the local B and S ball. Despite the debutantes, the Margra sheep are fat and healthy and, because its lambing season, there were plenty of perfect little, white new borns everywhere to lift the sartorial tone.
The farms on which Margra Lamb is grown aren't managed in strict accordance with regenerative principles, but the lamb production is managed according to a strict protocol which ensures that they are:
- always pasture-fed
- no more than nine months at slaughter
- free of antibiotics and hormones
- no less than 87.5% pure Tattykeel Australian White
- transported no more than 24 hours prior to slaughter.
The sheep we saw are super healthy and strong, range freely across verdant pastures, are beautifully handled and raised, are self-shedding (they grow hair not wool) and are entirely pasture-fed and finished. Most high country farms are unable to produce enough pasture during the winter months and ruminants are fed grain - even on certified biodynamic farms. But it is eminently preferable for sheep to be entirely pasture fed as the Margra Lamb protocol stipulates.
We're pleased and honoured to announce that we're now representing Margra Lamb.
Margra Lamb photos (rack and cooked cutlet): Mark Best
Farm photos: Mrs Feather & Margra