Maryland is famous for crabs. New Jersey’s “Jersey tomatoes” are famed. Maine, of course, is the lobster state. In Idaho, the potato is king. And, when it comes to American lamb, Colorado’s product is the most sought after by professional chefs throughout the U.S.
Because Colorado’s lamb is considered to be higher in quality and consistency it is recognized as a superior product. According to the Colorado Lamb Council the reason is genetics. Colorado lamb ranchers breed for meat production and that produces larger animals.
But for chefs, the reason is taste. At the Rendezvous in Memphis, lamb from Colorado is served exclusively because General Manager Pat Donohue says, “The flavor and texture are so much better than anything else we could find.”
Chris Ward, executive chef of the Mercury Grill in North Dallas, agrees. He features lamb shanks and rack of lamb. Chef Ward explains, “I’ve done side by side comparisons of lamb … they might look the same, but they don’t taste the same.”
Catelli Brothers distributes Colorado lamb to leading restaurants and food service operators in major markets throughout the U.S. including Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Miami, Dallas, Chicago and Los Angeles.
According to the Denver Post, “Colorado is the No. 1 lamb-feeding state in the union.” In Colorado, raising lamb has been raised to an art form, a natural art form. Colorado is, in fact, a “natural” state for lamb farming. Sheep favor mountains and hills, of which there are plenty in “the Rocky Mountain State.”
The preferred natural feed of sheep include brohm grass, service berries, larkspur, knapweed and wild carrots, all of which are common and plentiful in the foothills of Colorado. The natural grazing of sheep produces other benefits. By clearing undergrowth in wooded areas, they help prevent forest fires and also improve pasture quality by recycling nutrients back into the soil thus encouraging native plant growth.
To tend to the flocks of sheep, many Colorado ranchers hire shepherds from countries that have long histories of raising sheep such as Chile, Mexico and Peru, as well as the Basque region between France and Spain. Since sheep have many predators including bears, coyotes, wolves and mountain lions, shepherds use guard dogs, donkeys and even llamas to help them protect the free-ranging sheep.
Colorado sheep ranching dates back to the 1880s and has grown steadily since. Other top American lamb producing states include Texas, California, Wyoming and South Dakota, according to the American Lamb Board. The focus of Colorado ranchers is to raise sheep that are large and provide succulent and tender meat.
Safety is also high on the sheep farmers’ agendas. They carefully tend to all aspects of the animal’s lifecycle—from birth to fabrication—which ensures the American consumer of the safest, freshest, most flavorful natural meat possible. Colorado lamb meat, as well as all American lamb, is either USDA inspected for quality and wholesomeness or inspected by state systems equal to the standards set by the federal government.