Morgan Valley lamb returns with new owner, more sources
If Wes Crandall didn't like to eat lamb roast and stew, the popular Morgan Valley label might still be retired.
Lucky for fans of the Utah brand, lamb equals comfort food for the 27-year-old Springville businessman.
Crandall recently bought the Morgan Valley Lamb name from founders Jamie and Linda Gillmor, who in turn are helping him rebuild the customer base for the local, naturally-raised springtime staple.
Lamb consumption doubles during the spring, when it is often the star of Easter and Passover meals, according to the American Lamb Board. And Utah is one of the nation's top sheep producers with 300,000 head.
During a recent visit to a Mapleton sheep ranch, Crandall explained why he bought the Morgan Valley label and where it's headed.
"It's a quality lamb product, it's local, it's all natural," he said as five-day old lambs bleated nearby. The Gillmor's "had a very good customer base and had a great following. We're just trying to continue what Jamie started and let people know that we're back and running."
Shutting down • After 12 years marketing Morgan Valley Lamb, the Gillmors announced last May they was shutting down because family members wanted to sell the grazing lands. Crandall bought the label in August. But those few months in between were long enough to send some buyers looking for other lamb sources.
While Morgan Valley lamb can be found in smaller markets, it lost its first customer, Harmons Grocery, and Crandall is trying to get back on the local chain's shelves.
Crandall said he sells about 30 lambs a week, about 20 less than what Gillmor was doing.
But Gillmor said he had struggled to keep up supply when he was in charge.
"We'd run out of rack of lamb and loins and shanks, all the stuff depending on the time of year. At Easter we'd run out of legs," he said.
Gillmor was mainly selling his own lambs to markets and restaurants. Crandall, who doesn't raise sheep, now draws from 20 sheep ranchers across the state. The sources are both large and small, with some raising 5,000 head and other raising just five.
Utah restaurant chefs have always been big supporters of Morgan Valley products. Having more sources means "the quality, consistency and availability have increased dramatically," Bambara's executive chef Nathan Powers wrote in an e-mail.
Ethan Lappe, owner and chef of Caffe Niche in Salt Lake City, prefers Morgan Valley because it's "exceedingly fresh" and less gamey than New Zealand lamb another sheep-producing powerhouse.
High standards • While the supply is bigger, the standards remain the same. The animals are raised without the use of added hormones or steroids, Crandall explained during his visit to Whiting and Warren Farms in Mapleton, where five-day old lambs were running in one part of the farm and 6- to 10-month olds were fattening up on corn and alfalfa in another.
Once the lambs are 140 pounds, they're ready to be processed and sent to stores and restaurants.
"If they're too small, your French rack ends up being the size of a quarter, where our restaurants like it a little bit bigger," Crandall said. "Then again, if it gets too big, it's too much for the restaurants and they don't like that either."
Working with restaurants and local markets is relatively new to Crandall, who graduated from Utah State University with a degree in business finance and wasn't sure he would join his family business, Crandall Farms. The cattle ranch has been in his family for 100 years, mainly raising calves through the summer and selling them to producers who fatten the animals on grain for large beef companies.
Crandall Farms began raising grass-fed beef a decade ago and selling some of it to family and friends. Two years ago hoping to bring it to a larger audience Crandall created the Jones Creek Beef, named for the waterway at the family's Wyoming ranch. He said it's sold in some of the same places as Morgan Valley Lamb (see box), along with select Walmarts.
"Everybody's doing that at the farmers markets they're trying to get a little bit more for their product so they can sustain their family a little bit better," he said. "Plus, it helps the consumers who want to feel like they have a connection to the food that they're eating, which I think more and more people are looking for."
Crandall is also investigating if there is a local market for buffalo.
For now, he's dreaming of lamb.
"I'm sure Easter Sunday we'll be eating a leg of lamb, along with quite a few other people."
Where to buy
Here are a few places that sell Morgan Valley Lamb
Black Cherry Mediterranean Market • 4346 S. 900 East, Salt Lake City; open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.' blackcherrymarket.com
Farmers Market Store • 5823 S. State Street, Murray; open seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. wasatchfrontfarmersmarket.org
Liberty Heights Fresh • 1290 S. 1100 East, Salt Lake City; open Monday to Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; libertyheightsfresh.com
Utah Co-Op Market • 4892 Commerce Drive, Murray; open Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; utahcoop.org
Spicy marinated leg of lamb with tomato-cucumber salad
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons honey
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons paprika
11/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 boneless leg of lamb (about 3 pounds) butterflied and trimmed of excess fat
2 cups cherry or pear tomatoes, about 10 ounces total
2 cucumbers, about 10 ounces total
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a large bowl combine marinade ingredients. Add lamb to the bowl and evenly coat meat with marinade on all sides. Cover bowl and refrigerate for about 8 hours.
While lamb is marinating, make the salad. Cut each tomato lengthwise in half. Cut each cucumber lengthwise into quarters and then cut the quarters crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces. In a medium bowl combine all of the salad ingredients, including 1/2 teaspoon salt, and mix well. Set aside at room temperature until ready to serve.
Remove the lamb from the bowl and wipe off the excess marinade, leaving a thin coating. Season the lamb evenly with 2 teaspoons salt. Allow the lamb to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before grilling.
Prepare the grill for direct and indirect cooking over medium heat (350 to 450 degrees)
Brush the cooking grates clean. Sear the lamb over direct medium heat, with the lid closed as much as possible, until nicely browned on both sides, 10 to 15 minutes, turning once or twice. Slide the lamb over indirect medium heat, close the lid, and continue cooking to your desired doneness, about 20 minutes for medium rare. Remove from the grill and let rest for about 10 minutes.
Cut the lamb crosswise into 1/4-inch slices. Serve warm with the salad.
Servings • 6-9
Source: Jamie Purviance for Weber-Stephens Products
Orange and mint-stuffed lamb with sweet and sour cabbage
Easter lamb often is served with mint jelly. This recipe turn those flavors inside out, stuffing the leg with a vibrant mint pesto. Braise red cabbage under the lamb for an intensely meaty, flavorful accompaniment. If you still want a minty sauce, the reserved pesto can be thinned with olive oil and drizzled over each serving.
1 small head red cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup red wine
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Zest and juice of 2 oranges
1 bunch fresh mint, leaves only
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup grated manchego cheese
1/2 cup toasted cashews
Ground black pepper
3 1/2-pound boneless leg of lamb
3 slices stale or crusty bread
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Heat the oven to 300 degrees.
In a medium bowl, combine the cabbage, onion, red wine, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, red pepper flakes and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Spread the mixture evenly over the bottom of a roasting pan large enough to fit the leg of lamb. Set aside.
To make the pesto, in a processor, combine the orange zest and juice, the mint, olive oil, cheese, cashews, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. Process until completely blended, then reserve 1/2 cup.
Place the leg of lamb on a cutting board. Starting on a long side, cut the meat in half horizontally, but do not cut all the way through. Leave about 1 inch of meat uncut at the other side. Open the meat like a book, then place a piece of plastic wrap over it. Use a meat mallet or rolling pin to pound the meat to an even thickness of about 2 inches.
Season the meat all over with salt and pepper. Spread the pesto over the cut side of the meat. Starting at one of the long sides, roll the lamb into a log with the pesto in the center. Use kitchen twine to tie the lamb in several spots to prevent it from unrolling. Place the lamb over the cabbage mixture in the roasting pan. Set aside.
In a food processor, pulse the bread until it is reduced to soft crumbs. Stir in the mustard, then pat the mixture over the outside of the lamb. Roast for 3 1/2 hours, or until the meat is fork-tender. Allow the lamb to rest for 15 minutes, then slice it across the roll. Serve alongside the braised cabbage from the bottom of the pan and the reserved mint pesto.
Note • The whole roast can be prepped ahead of time, then refrigerated overnight. The day of the dinner, just pop the whole roasting pan in the oven and you're good to go. If your cabbage or lamb begins to overbrown during roasting, just tent the pan with foil.
Servings • 8
Source: Associated Press
Healthy grilled lamb steaks with artichoke lemon sauce
Lamb steaks, cut from the leg, are one of the leanest cuts of lambespecially when you trim away any fat. It's so lean you have to figure out how to replace the flavor and moisture that goes missing when you kiss the fat goodbye. In this recipe, that is accomplished with a rosemary-garlic rub with added salt. When you rub a piece of protein with salt and let it sit, the salt eventually makes the meat juicier.
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound lamb steaks cut from the leg (preferably about 3/4-inch thick)
1 cup artichoke hearts, patted dry and chopped (frozen is best)
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Set aside 1 teaspoon of the chopped rosemary. In a wide, shallow bowl combine the remaining rosemary, the garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add lamb and coat it well on all sides with the herb mixture. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour, and up to overnight.
Set an oven rack 4 inches from the broiler heating element. Heat the oven to broil.
In a small bowl, toss the artichokes with the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil and salt and pepper to taste. Arrange the artichokes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil, turning them several times, until they are golden around the edges, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the broiler and set aside.
In a small saucepan over medium, heat the chicken broth until it is simmering. In a small bowl whisk together the egg yolk, lemon juice, reserved teaspoon of rosemary and the cornstarch. Add a little of the chicken stock to the mixture in a stream, whisking. Add the egg mixture back to the chicken stock and cook for 1 minute, or until the sauce starts to bubble. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the artichokes. Keep warm over low heat.
Heat a grill or a grill pan over medium-high heat. Wipe off most of the garlic herb mixture from the lamb and spray the meat with olive oil cooking spray. Add the lamb to the grill pan. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, turning once, about 4 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer the lamb to a plate, cover loosely with foil and let rest for 5 minutes.
Slice the lamb against the grain into slices about 1/4-inch thick. Add the lamb juices from the plate to the artichoke lemon sauce. Divide the sliced lamb between 4 serving plates and spoon sauce over each plate.
Servings • 4
Source: Sara Moulton for Associated Press