August 22, 2012

Soup to Nuts: Marching to
the bleat of a different drummer

Much of the lamb served in Maine restaurants comes 'from away.' Phil and Lisa Webster have a plan to change that.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Phil and Lisa Webster at their North Star Farm in Windham with some of the lambs they raise to sell for meat to Whole Foods Market and local restaurants.

Photos by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Phil and Lisa Webster survey the scene from the barn at Collyer Brook Farm in New Gloucester, where they lease 650 acres to pasture their sheep. The Websters expect to eventually have 2,500 sheep grazing on the land.

Additional Photos Below

NOW SERVING

IF YOU'VE DINED AROUND Portland recently, it's likely you've seen a menu that boasts that the restaurant serves North Star Farm lamb. Here are the Portland-area restaurants that are serving the meat:

Hugo's

East Ender

Grace

Back Bay Grill

The Well at Jordan Farm

Bucks Naked BBQ

RECIPES

HERE ARE TWO of Lisa Webster's favorite ways to enjoy lamb:

BAAAAA SLIDERS

Sliders, which are nothing more than mini burgers, are a very popular item right now, and lamb sliders with a bright, creamy cucumber-yogurt sauce takes the idea to a new level of deliciousness.

Servings: 8 to 10 lamb sliders with creamy yogurt sauce

Total time: 36 minutes

Yogurt Sauce:

1/2 cup plain Greek-style yogurt

1/2 tablespoon minced garlic

3 tablespoons grated cucumber

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Salt to taste.

For the lamb burgers:

1 pound lean ground lamb

2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons cracked black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

8 to 10 small rolls, split (mini sandwich rolls or small dinner rolls work great)

Small head lettuce

2 tomatoes

To make the sauce: In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients. Refrigerate until needed.

To make the lamb burgers: In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except the oil. Form the mixture into 8 to 10 small, thin patties. Heat a cast-iron grill pan over high heat and brush with oil. Add the lamb burgers and cook for about 2 to 3 minutes on each side for medium. Lightly toast the rolls on the griddle, slice tomatoes thin, add lettuce and lamb burger, and spread with the tzatziki sauce.

GRILLED LAMB CHOPS

Total time: 15 minutes

12 lamb chops

6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

3 medium cloves garlic, pressed

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Press garlic and let sit for at least 15 minutes. Mix together lemon juice, rosemary, pressed garlic, salt and pepper. Rub lamb chops with mixture. Set aside on plate.

Preheat grill on high heat, until grill reaches 400 degrees. Turn grill to medium heat. Grill chops of both sides until medium pink in center.

 

Webster does most of the hands-on labor at the farm, and his wife says it was hard on him making the transition to a larger meat operation. If you're the one out in the barn all winter keeping the animals alive, making sure they're getting milk and watching them grow, it can be difficult to then be the cause of their demise.

"He's very, very soft-hearted," she said. "That's what makes him so good at what he does."

Phil Webster, however, is a practical man when it comes to dispatching his flock.

"You have to do it," he said. "But it is nice when you can give someone some really good lamb to eat. That gives you a lot of pleasure also."

OUT TO PASTURE

The youngest lambs on the farm right now were born in June and are still out on pasture with their mothers. They'll be sent to slaughter when they are 6 to 8 months old.

There are different breeds on the farm – Hampshire, Suffolk, Icelandic, and a commercial cross breed – and their lambing periods are staggered throughout the year. They vary in size, but their flavor comes mostly from what they're fed.

All of North Star Farm's pasture is certified organic, and the entire lamb program is well on its way to becoming certified. The animals stay on pasture in summer, and in winter they're on grass hay. Each day, they are fed a small allotment of certified organic grains – a mixture of oats, barley, molasses and corn.

Lambs like routine. So Phil Webster does everything he can, even when the lambs are headed to slaughter, to keep their schedules normal and stress-free.

Every Friday, he gets up at 2 a.m. to drive lambs that are to be harvested for Whole Foods to Westminster, Vermont, a 442-mile round trip from Windham. They have to be there at 7 a.m., so he could make it easier on himself and go the night before, but Webster refuses to make the animals sit in a strange place overnight. He doesn't even load them up until Friday.

When they arrive in Vermont, the lambs are put into a barn with fresh hay and water. Phil Webster believes this kind of attention to detail – lessening the animal's stress, and the farm's husbandry practices in general – are reflected in the taste of the meat.

A CUT ABOVE

Chefs agree. When Geoffroy Deconinck, the chef at Natalie's at the Camden Harbour Inn, was looking for Maine lamb to serve at a James Beard dinner in New York City, he visited North Star Farm to see how the animals were raised. While he was there, he cooked and ate some lamb chops in the Websters' kitchen.

"What sold me on Lisa's lamb is the tenderness, the earthiness, that subtle – not overpowering – and delicate taste of the meat," he said.

Deconinck ended up serving a duo of lamb belly confit ("I will always remember that sweet taste of hay") and seared lamb loin with a seaweed sea salt he created especially for the lamb.

Other chefs, many of whom have also visited the farm, say they like the availability of the lamb compared to other locally-raised meats.

"A lot of them like to come out to the farm and even choose the one they want," Phil Webster said. "I think it means more to them."

The Well at Jordan Farm in Cape Elizabeth bought whole lamb this summer, grilling the best cuts over a wood fire and using the rest for sausage. On the menu last week was North Star grilled lamb with wilted chard, caramelized onions and basmati rice.

(Continued on page 3)

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Additional Photos

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Lambs gather around Phil Webster at the couple’s North Star Farm in Windham.

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Lisa Webster often invites chefs into her kitchen to sample lamb from the farm.

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Sheep graze on land at Collyer Brook Farm in New Gloucester that Phil and Lisa Webster are leasing to grow their lamb operation.



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