There was the temptation to replace knife and fork with fingers, to raise that shank in all its unctuous sauce and juices to my lips and let my teeth sink into flesh so fall-apart and tender, cavewoman-style – but I rose above it. I’d simmered a pair of Warren Wiggins’ fat lamb shanks long and slow and they may have been the best ones I’d eaten.
It’s Dorper lamb, for one thing. Behind Bexhill, Warren and wife Marina have been breeding these highly fertile sheep for over a decade. Developed in South Africa, the breed thrives in harsh conditions; more importantly, the fast-growing lambs mature around 4 – 6 months ensuring the tenderness I’d tasted along with a superior flavour. These are reasons why high-end restaurants seek it out. In addition, the couple use ethical farming practices, rotational feeding, a stress-free environment, organic farming principles, no hormones. They make their own fermented seaweed tonic with live microbes harvested from the farm and administered through the sheep’s water troughs. ‘This tonic’, Warren says, ‘is high in potassium and nitrogen and minerals…Our pastures are then fertilized by the sheep via their droppings .’
Warren sells this tonic at the various farmers markets his stall can be found, alongside his other lamb products, including, I notice, lamb tallow. A natural animal fat, it’s been used by humans for centuries; its high smoke point renders it especially good for cooking. ‘People are going back to it’, Warren says.
He says all the cuts are popular – including their lamb bacon. ‘Dorper’, he says, ‘loves a low temperature due to its tenderness.’ His favourite way to cook it? Loin saddle rump infused with maple syrup and thyme, oven-baked at 140 – 160C for 45 minutes. That’s some classy farmer!
Find Dorper Lamb every Tuesday at New Brighton Farmers Market 8am-11am and Mullum Farmers Market every Friday 7am-11am