Mercer County farmer Jim Mansfield, a member of Blue Grass Energy, owns Four Hills Farm in central Kentucky, but instead of raising beef like many farmers, he raises Katahdin sheep. Named for Mt. Katahdin in Maine, the breed was created in the 1950s by crossbreeding traditional wool sheep with a West African breed. They are referred to as “hair sheep”—they have a hair coat, and like dogs, they naturally shed their winter hair coat in the spring, no shearing required. They are easy to care for and their meat is known for its mild flavor and tenderness.
These days, Kentuckians don’t eat much lamb, but in the middle of the last century, Kentucky was famous for the high-quality lamb it produced, and upscale restaurants in Chicago and Baltimore were known to tout “Kentucky lamb” on their menus.
Mansfield thinks the mild flavor and freshness are what make it so popular. His lamb has never been frozen and arrives at market within a week of harvest. As a result, he’s contracting with other farmers throughout Kentucky and surrounding states to raise lamb for him to sell to retail customers and to restaurants.
Four Hills Farm lamb is sold at Marksbury Farm Market in Lancaster, as well as Whole Foods Market in Lexington and Louisville, and Cincinnati and Mason in Ohio. For more information, go online to www.fourhillsfarm.com, or call (859) 865-4962.
LAMB STEW WITH GARLIC
1 lamb shoulder (about 5 lbs), or 6 lamb shanks
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 C chicken broth, reduced-sodium
1 tsp salt
1⁄2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1 head garlic, cloves peeled
1⁄4 C chopped parsley
1 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
Cut meat from the shoulder bone into large chunks (reserve bone); if using shanks, leave meat on bones. Heat oil on medium-high in a Dutch oven (or large, heavy pot with handles that can go in the oven) and brown the lamb all over. Brown in batches: if the meat is crowded it will not brown. Set meat aside.
Heat oven to 350°. Pour off fat from the pan and add a little chicken broth, scraping bottom of the pan to loosen brown bits. Put meat and bones in the pan. Add remaining ingredients and cover tightly with lid or heavy-duty aluminum foil. Cook 1 3⁄4 hours or until meat is tender. Discard shoulder bones.
If time allows, chill the liquid so fat firms and is easy to lift off. Otherwise, remove fat with a spoon and discard it along with the bay leaf, reserving remaining liquid. Mash garlic cloves with a fork and add to liquid, stirring to blend. Simmer in pan (or pour into smaller saucepan if desired) and reduce by two-thirds. Add sauce to meat and serve in shallow bowls with bread or potatoes of your choice. Serves 6.
DANA GASKIN’S CREAMY POTATO SOUP
6-8 large potatoes, cut into cubes
8 oz cream cheese
2 C skim milk
2 C water or chicken broth
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1 onion, chopped finely
Put potatoes in a deep, heavy pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook 20 minutes. Add other ingredients and simmer 30 minutes, or put in a slow cooker for several hours on low heat. Serve with cornbread or crackers. Serves 6.
Editor’s note: It is also great with 2 cups grated, extra-sharp cheddar stirred in at the end. Remove from heat, add grated cheese, and stir to melt completely.
Submitted by DANA GASKIN, Russell Springs, member of South Kentucky RECC.