HELENA – Nearly 200 people came to the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds in Helena last week, for a chance to taste a unique Montana flavor.
The American Lamb Board, American Dorper Sheep Breeders Society, Montana Wool Growers Association and Montana Farm Bureau Foundation sponsored the Montana Lamb Jam.
Lamb Jams have been launched around the country, as a way to create more interest in the flavors of lamb. Kim Ashmore, chair of the Montana Lamb Jam’s organizing committee, believes the Helena event was the first of its kind in the state.
Ashmore, who raises sheep at the KJ’n Ranch and Sheep Mountain Creamery northwest of Helena, said the Lamb Jam featured all-local lamb, raised on Montana ranches.
“Our hope is to get lamb back in the restaurants, back in the grocery stores, and onto the dinner table, and introduce people to another healthy meat choice,” she said.
The organizers recruited three Montana chefs who’ve made lamb part of their own menus. They came from the 320 Guest Ranch near Big Sky and from Electric City Coffee and the Celtic Cowboy in Great Falls.
“We chose to do it – thought it would be a fun thing, good promotion,” said Michael Taylor, executive chef at the Celtic Cowboy. “It keeps locals involved, and it’s a local product, so we’re very proud to actually endorse that.”
The chefs each created three dishes, to highlight what makes lamb distinctive.
“It’s a really fun dish,” said Ryan Dalke, chef de cuisine at Electric City Coffee. “It’s very similar to beef, but it’s also got a richness that you just don’t see in beef.”
Dalke’s dishes included a variation of eggs Benedict with lamb sausage, a Moroccan-style lamb chop and a lamb slider. Devin Kemp, the executive chef for the 320 Guest Ranch, prepared a braised lamb shank with rosemary, a lamb chop marinated in yogurt and a lamb merguez sausage slider. Finally, Taylor made a variation on a gyro using lamb, a lamb rack with beets and potatoes and a lamb roulade, or roll.
Three judges rated each chef’s creations. The other diners were also able to vote for their own “People’s Choice” dish.
Students from the Lewis and Clark County 4-H sheep program helped prepare the tables and serve those attending the Lamb Jam.
The event featured more than just meat. Organizers also showcased sheep milk and cheese, along with wool items.
“We’re trying to utilize the entire sheep,” said Ashmore.
In the end, the judges awarded the Celtic Cowboy top marks, followed by the 320 Guest Ranch and Electric City Coffee. The 320 Ranch’s yogurt-marinated lamb chop won the People’s Choice award.
The chefs hope, once people get a taste of lamb, they’ll try cooking it for themselves.
“It’s not something you should be afraid of,” said Kemp. “It’s just something that’s kind of unique and that, honestly, the more you eat it, the more it seems like you like it.”
Ashmore said organizers were pleased with how the first Lamb Jam went.
“We’re hoping that through this success, we’ll be able to continue,” she said. “We would love to have this an annual thing.”