We profess to eat by the seasons, but in this era of year-round availability, it’s really palate memory and stubborn localness that determine apples for autumn and strawberries for June.
Following that guideline, lamb is for spring, a symbol of rebirth. With a delicacy never matched by beef and a richness pork can’t top, lamb’s meaty essence satisfies our hunger for more, a prelude to the coming months of abundance.
Traditionally, many ethnic groups, including Serbians, Greeks, and Eastern Europeans, enjoy barbecued lamb for Orthodox Easter dinner and other celebrations. Often braised rather than roasted, lamb is a popular Passover meal as well. Middle Eastern and North African cuisines also make excellent use of this delectable meat.
Now, thanks to a burgeoning interest in locally raised products, the market for New England lamb in all its many variations has taken off all across the region. “To be honest, there’s never enough,” says Kate Stillman of Stillman’s at the Turkey Farm in Hardwick, Massachusetts. Her lamb, as chops, legs, sausages, stew meat, and other cuts, is sold by special order, through meat CSA (community-supported agriculture) programs, and at farmers’ markets in Boston, Brookline, and elsewhere.
John Stowell, director of fresh meats and sustainable agriculture for Dole & Bailey in Woburn, Massachusetts, agrees that the demand for local lamb is on the upswing. Most of his customers are New England chefs, who like lamb because the cuts are tender and cook easily and quickly. Velvety in texture, with a clean taste more complex than veal’s, a slice of lamb leg or a savory lamb stew with white wine and herbs can linger in the memory for years.