Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Shepherd's Tale

February 12

My journey through New Zealand continued with a flight from Blenheim to Christchurch in the region of Canterbury. We stopped by Hinton's, near the airpot, for lunch, where I had baked Parmesan-crusted lamb cutlets on a potato galette with a spinach, pancetta, lemon and spiced carrot salad and a mint jus.
This is as good a time as any to point out that the United States has no monopoly on gargantuan portions. I was served three double lamb chops (i.e. six ribs). My galette must have been eight ounces of potato, and believe me they didn't skimp on the pancetta.
It was a lot of food, something of which I was particularly aware since on the way to the airport we'd stopped by a butcher shop and I had my first steak and kidney pie. It kind of reminded me of a Jamaican beef patty, but without the spice and with a comforting earthiness that I think came from the kidney.
So I was full as Kevin drove us to Middle Rock in the Canterbury high country, where we visited the sheep farm of Bruce and Lyn Nell. We tooled around the 50-year old farm, which was given to the family as part of a land grant program to World War I veterans.
The Nells have 8,000 Corriedale sheep, a dual-purpose breed, which means they're used for both wool, suitable for baby blankets (young Corriedale lambs have wool as fine as 23 microns, although 27 microns is the norm for more mature animals) and meat.
The lambs are born in October, weaned in February and sold throughout their first year. Those kept for wool and breading are shorn once a year, in September.
Commodity lamb in New Zealand is normally "harvested" (a polite way of saying "slaughtered") before they're a year old, which is interesting, because I'm told that many New Zealanders contend that hoggets have tastier meat.
Hoggets are sheep aged between one and two years. Their meat would be more flavorful but somewhat tougher in structure — meatier if you will — than lamb.
At two years, they're mutton.
At the end of the tour we met dog trainer and entrepreneur Bernie Oliver, whom rugby fans, which, it seems, includes every one of the four million people in New Zealand, will be interested to know is the uncle of Anton Oliver, the former captain of the All Blacks, New Zealand's national team.
Bernie showed us how his dogs herd sheep. He sent a little one out to round up a small herd, which the dog did by running around the periphery of the field they were in and then running back and forth in sort of a shrinking arc that motivated the sheep away from him and toward us. At least that's what I think he was doing.
Then we visited with Bernie and the Nells in the Nells’ home, drinking coffee and snacking on tan bars — a sort of blondie — while Bernie told us of one of his entrepreneurial plans. He’s selling prepared cuts of Merino hoggets at a farmers market.
Now that's interesting because Merinos are wool sheep, not meat sheep.
Mr. Nell explained that sheep with fine wool, which Merinos have, also have finely grained meat, giving them a desirable texture. But it also means that they put on bulk slowly. So pound per pound (or kilo per kilo, as it were) Merinos are uneconomical for meat, but they should certainly taste good.
After our visit, Kevin drove Bill and me to Terrace Downs, a high country sporting resort, with a golf course, fishing and, we were told, spectacular views of the mountains. It was a foggy, overcast day, though, so I'll have to take their word for it.
The folks at New Zealand Trade & Enterprise had rented a house for us for the night. In its kitchen, Graham Brown was making dinner.
Graham is a chef for the Cervena venison folks, among others, and I met him back in 2001, the last time I was in New Zealand. I even wrote a profile of his son, Hamish Brown, who was then the chef at the George Hotel in Christchurch and now is working in London.
Joining us for dinner were two representatives from Five Star Beef, which, contrary to New Zealand custom, fattens its cattle on grain (mostly barley and wheat, but also corn silage) for export to Japan. They're exploring options for exporting to the United States.
Their beef is gorgeous. Take a look at this prime rib:
Graham roasted that with Yorkshire pudding and served it with a Shiraz and white pepper sauce and Kikorangi blue cheese. We drank a 2002 Pegasus Bay Cabernet-Merlot with it. Pegasus Bay is in the Waipara region in Canterbury.
Graham insists that Waipara will be New Zealand’s next big wine region, as many of the country’s best winemakers have set up shop there.
Waipara is not to be mistaken for Wairarapa, on the North Island, which is where our 2005 Paddy Bothwick Pinot Noir was from. We had that with venison that Graham had cured in salt and raw brown sugar and then smoked it with Red Zinger tea. He seared it rare, sliced it and served it on mesclun with baby arugula (which New Zealanders call “rocket”), orange, blueberry, fried parsnip, walnut and walnut oil-raspberry vinaigrette.
Then out came a bottle of Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, from Marlborough of course, to be drunk with Graham's whitebait soufflé in phyllo tart.
Then came the beef, along with side dishes of vegetables and potatoes, also seasoned with white pepper, which Graham loves. I mean, he loves it. He swears by it.
Here's a picture of Graham, enjoying his rhubarb fool, topped with mashed strawberries, and ANZAC tuile and whipped cream.
The tuile is made with ANZAC cookies, a staple food for Australian and New Zealander soldiers at the World War I battle of Gallipoli, at which British commanders used those troops as cannon fodder against the Turks.
Graham crushes up the cookies into a batter, spreads it thinly on a silicon baking sheet and cooks it into a tuile.
We ate it with a Grove Mill Late Harvest Gewürztraminer, from Marlborough.

Here’s one more picture, just for fun, of Bill and Graham.

1 comment:

JB said...

Is a Brittney Spears steak. Beautiful but tragic, needs the bone.