Award-winning Omega Lamb billed as the world’s tastiest and healthiest has been served up to New Zealand farmers after wowing judges at the international Culinary Olympics in Germany.
The Omega Lamb Project is bringing healthy fat back onto the world’s menu by producing animals with naturally higher polyunsaturated fatty acids, intramuscular fat and omega-3.
New Zealand’s Culinary Olympics team, competing against top chefs from 40 other countries, opted to use the lamb as the centrepiece of its main dish despite the lamb only recently beginning trials in premium restaurants in Auckland and Hong Kong.
Judges at the prestigious culinary contest which ran from 21-26 October in Erfurt, Germany, were so impressed with the lamb they awarded the dish a silver medal in the coveted live hot kitchen competition.
The lamb recipe which took out the silver medal is being re-created for some of the farmers involved in the project at a series of events across the country.
Darren Wright, a chef with Chillingworth Road restaurant in Christchurch and part of the NZ Culinary Olympics team, showcased the lamb to farmers in Methven, Mid-Canterbury, on Monday, 14 November.
Mike Tate, general manager of the Omega Lamb Project, says: “This is a significant achievement and we’re delighted with the positive response to the lamb from some of the world’s leading chefs and top judges. The recognition on the world stage reinforces the feedback from multiple taste panels which show the extra good fats enhances succulence and eating quality.
“We are focusing on identifying the sweet spot where fat levels give the best possible taste and mouth feel, as well as health benefits.”
Graham Hawkes, national president of NZ Chefs who led the Culinary Olympic team, says: “The three essential traits a chef looks for in great lamb are taste, tenderness and succulence. Omega Lamb shows all three.”
The chefs who won the silver were Darren Wright, Richard Hingston of Christchurch Casino, Corey Hume of Blanket Bay, Steve Le Corre and Mark Sycamore of the ARA Institute of Christchurch and John Kelleher of AUT, Auckland.
The lamb is part of the Omega Lamb Primary Growth Partnership (PGP) programme, the new name for the collaboration between Alliance Group, Headwaters Group and the Ministry for Primary Industries.
The Omega Lamb Project has developed a complete farming system that builds on a decade-long scientific programme and breakthrough research that’s found that the right combination of genetics, management and feeding can alter the fat profile of lamb and produce animals that are themselves healthier and healthier for the consumer, containing higher levels of what nutritionists call ‘good fat’ — polyunsaturated fat and omega-3.
The programme is taking a fresh approach to breeding, raising, processing and marketing premium New Zealand lamb by repositioning it as healthier red meat.
Ultimately, it aims to increase the total value of lamb and the share of value captured in New Zealand by developing healthy, high quality branded products.
Over the last 20 years the sheep industry has focused on selecting animals for lower fat levels, says Tate.
“However, a level of fat is needed by ewes to survive the winter and raise lambs. Fat is also needed for red meat to process well, cook well and be tender and succulent – much of the flavour is contained within the fat.”
Last season, more than 15,000 lambs reached the programme’s criteria for omega-3, intramuscular and polyunsaturated fats.
The lambs are bred in the hill and high country in spring and then, as summer dries the high country, are brought down to naturally graze selected chicory and chicory/red clover pastures that help to achieve an average of three percent intramuscular fat (in loin) against a one to two percent average for New Zealand lamb at the same age.
The lamb is currently undergoing a trial in restaurants in Auckland and Hong Kong. A market launch is anticipated in 2017.