Chef Scott Crawford of Herons at the Umstead Hotel and Spa and Chef Brett Jennings of Elaine's on Franklin shared their culinary expertise and passion for underutilized cuts from rare breeds. They invited us into the kitchen at Herons restaurant and allowed participants to see first hand how to break down a carcass and utilize multiple parts to make a delicious meal.
Byran Childress, the Hog Island sheep producer, was also on hand at the clinic to educate participants about the breed. Byran gave a brief history of the breed and answered questions. Many were amazed to learn that the Hog Island sheep is listed as critical on the ALBC Conservation Priority List, meaning there are less than 200 annual registrations of these animals in the United States.
An important part of saving rare breeds is developing a market for them - and with many of these breeds that market is food. Heritage breeds have different genetics from your standard industrial breeds; therefore, they have different tastes, textures, aromas, and flavors. The more ALBC can educate consumers and chefs about these breeds, the more we can support the mission of conservation. It may seem paradoxical, but by creating a demand for these breeds it will encourage farmers to raise more animals which in turn helps genetic conservation.
The breed that was prepared at the cooking clinic was the Hog Island sheep. The Hog Island sheep is a breed that has its beginnings in the 18th century. The breed was developed from British sheep living on Virginia’s barrier island, Hog Island, which was historically inhabited by America’s earliest colonists. The sheep evolved in response to the island’s natural selection for hardiness, foraging ability, and reproductive efficiency. In the 1930s, hurricanes destroyed Hog Island and forced inhabitants back to the mainland; however many of the sheep were left on the island and reverted to a feral state. In the 1970’s, the Nature Conservancy purchased Hog Island and most of the sheep were removed.
Today, the breed is extremely rare, with fewer than 200 animals registered annually. Hog Island sheep vary in physical appearance. Most of the sheep are white wooled, though about twenty percent are black. Ewes may be horned or polled. Rams can have horns or are somewhat polled. Mature animals weigh between 90–150 pounds. Hog Island sheep are excellent foragers and prefer to browse rather than graze, if given the opportunity to do so. They stay in very tight flocks and are extremely alert in nature. The breed is a rich part of American history and needs stewards to help it survive.
The best part of the cooking event - the food!
The menu was as follows:
- Crispy Livers with Celeriac, Apples, Maitake, and Sherry-Brown Butter
- Roast Lamb with Ratatouille, Lemon Confit, and Black Olive Jus
- Warm Pumpkin Waffles with Autumn Fruit Compote and Calvados Ice Cream
To learn more about Heritage breeds or how to incorporate them into your farm plan, resturant, or dinner table, contact the ALBC office or visit www.albc-usa.org.