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

WINDHAM and NEW GLOUCESTER — Phil Webster gestures out to the rolling hills of Collyer Brook Farm in New Gloucester and points out a fuzzy line of white heading in the general direction of the barn.

click image to enlarge

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

click image to enlarge

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.

 

"The lambs are all coming up over the hill," he said. "Sometimes there will be a whole train of them."

The thin line of animals marching in single file is part of a larger flock of 500 to 600 that Webster and his wife, Lisa, keep here on about 650 acres of leased land that is just steps away from the country's first woolen mill. The sheep that grazed here during the American Revolution provided the wool blankets that kept patriots warm.

Soon, this pastureland may once again be filled with these gentle creatures and the distant sound of their soft bleating.

The Websters already have a healthy lamb operation at their home, North Star Sheep Farm in Windham, that supplies 14 New England Whole Foods stores, about a half dozen Maine restaurants and chefs in Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire with fresh, local lamb. But this leased land, a part of Pineland Farms, is part of a larger plan.

"We'll never overgraze it," Webster said. "We have a lot of good pasture to rotate. But we'll eventually probably have 2,500 sheep here."

And that's not all.

Lisa Webster, who handles the all the business aspects of North Star Farm while her husband focuses on husbandry, envisions at least 10 other Maine farms developing their own lamb programs, with North Star's help, and producing 500 to 1,000 lambs each.

"My personal goal, so that we have a thriving lamb industry in Maine, is 17,000 animals in the next 10 years for the state of Maine," Lisa Webster said. "The market for lamb is concentrated between Boston and New York City – over 37 percent of the lamb consumed in the United States. That's the number one region for lamb consumption in the United States.

"And the lamb isn't raised here," she said. "It's raised in Colorado, Texas, northern California, New Zealand, Australia, Iceland. There's no reason for us to be consuming lamb from Colorado and Texas."

DEEP ROOTS IN FARMING

The Websters are both fifth-generation sheep farmers. They also run a landscape maintenance business that helped fund their sheep farm for the past 30 years. Until a year or so ago, they maintained a hobby flock of 85 ewes. They sold seed stock, showed in county fairs and raised a small amount of meat.

Then, a few years ago, they decided they had to come up with a growth plan to sustain their farm, which was founded in the 1700s, beyond their lifetimes for future generations. Today, they maintain a flock of about 1,200 ewes, scattered in groups of 50 to 100 among various buildings and pastures.

The Websters began selling their lamb to Whole Foods 15 months ago, more than doubled the order a year later, and by 2013, Lisa Webster projects the natural foods chain will be buying 5,200 of her lambs.

Chefs have also discovered North Star Farm lamb, and it is appearing on more and more New England menus. "I probably have done 400 lambs for my restaurant market this year already," Webster said.

The Websters are not just numbers people. They know and care for their animals.

They know the difference between a "Hey, where's my lunch?" bleat and a "Help, I've got my head stuck in the fence" bleat.

They've even been known to have a lamb who needed some extra care sleep with them. (It wore diapers.)

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

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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