Butchering Lamb at Lightning Ridge

By Lindsey Barrett

After a sunny forty-five minute Sunday drive from Boston to Sherborn, Mass., my Sous Chef Josh Turka and I arrived at a image1small white poster paper sign with a thin black arrow pointing us to 38A Bullard Street. The narrow gravel path, surrounded by thick green brush, opened up to a single-story grey ranch home with three wood-paneled barns behind it. Lightning Ridge Farm is a modest, family-run business dedicated to raising purebred Corriedale sheep and lamb for auction and wholesale.

“It’s named lighting ridge because a few years ago, right down the street, 24 cows were all killed by one strike of lighting,” said owner Nancy Miniter. She and her husband John, along with bostonchefs.com, invited restaurant owners and staff to visit the farm, have lunch and watch a whole animal butchery demonstration. This offered a unique and educational experience, bringing chefs out of the kitchen and closer to the products and people they work with. Over twenty chefs, general managers and restaurant owners from Massachusetts and Rhode Island wearing sneakers, full arm tattoos and some even in socks and kitchen Crocs, gathered to learn about purchasing local lamb directly from the farmer.

Nancy and John started the farm with just two small sheep as 4H projects for their son and daughter in 1990. Today they have 45 ewes on 15 acres. “If you can get a lamb to produce three times in two years she is a keeper,” Nancy advised. Lamb and sheep have a gestation period of five months, and most animals will “lamb” twins.

image4Lightning Ridge does most of its retail selling at the Wayland Winter and Natick farmers markets, where the lamb is broken down into loin, rib and chop primal cuts for customers. Nancy sells every part of the animal. “I do pretty good selling testicles at the farmers market,” she said. “Testicles, hearts and tongues — I can’t keep them.”

The farm produces lamb year-round, which is uncommon for a small farm. The animals are butchered at 120-140 pounds and will hang sheered, skinned and head-on at 60-70 pounds. It takes roughly six to seventh months for the animals to reach this weight. Hay made on site by Nancy and John, both animal science graduates, is used for feeding along with a 16% protein enriched grain feed. “I don’t like seeing thin sheep,” Nancy admitted.

After the grounds tour, the chefs sat down in the shade to whole roast lamb, smoked over peach wood, and Jacks Abby. It was welcome refreshment from the blistering heat that beat down from a piercing blue sky littered with a few sharp white clouds. Sitting around six plastic tables under white peaked tents, chefs chatted in true competitive culinary form. Theyimage2 compared who had been working the most hours, what was on their current menu, how often it changed and who did what with lamb, each silently sizing up their fellow chef and quietly judging their practices and procedures.

The butchery demonstration was given by Savenour’s butcher shop manager Adam Lucia. Although the conditions were not ideal — it was warm, the meat was getting soft and the hand saw was not breaking bones as easily as it would had the meat and air temperature been cooler — Adam did his best to demonstrate how to break down a whole lamb. “It’s not magic, it’s just a lost art,” he said as he delicately taps his boning knife with a steel mallet between rib bone and muscle. He explained what he uses the whole animal for and how nothing should be wasted. “The lard inside the lamb, it’s a shame not to use,” he said. “It’s like white gold.” He went on to suggest we use it to sear proteins in pans.

Three days prior, sweat slowly creeped down the small of my back and my thick black chef pants stuck to my thighs. It was a Thursday night and it felt like the entire dining room at The Salty Pig had all sat down at once. At 6 p.m. in the middle of picking up and plating three pork tastings, two buccatini and clam pastas and a small agnolotti, I heard my chef yell my name. “Lindsey, talk to Josh at the pass,” my head chef barked as he finished garnishing a plate with toasted sunflower seeds and five vibrant sunflower pedals.

image5Josh leaned over the shiny black counter and asked what I was doing Sunday. Really? I thought. You want to know my Sunday plans when I’m frantically trying to plate six entrees on a space no bigger than a standard kitchen sized cutting board? “Um nothing chef, what’s up?” I respectfully answered. Over the clanking of plates and beeping of timers, thoughts continued going on in my head: Was my loin resting? Was the garlic burning in the pan or did I have enough time to turn around, bloom in the Aleppo and deglaze with white wine?

He told me he wanted to tour a lamb farm and talk about purchasing a whole lamb. “Sure chef, sounds fun, text me later about details,” I spat out as I whirled back around to the six burner range. With a towel in hand, I grabbed sauté pans and heated up the black garlic purée. I then stole the crispy charred wax beans off the grill, aggressively chopped parsley to finish the pasta and tossed the finished plates to the pass.

Back at Lightning Ridge, as the butchering demonstration continued, Josh and I chugged down our third beer each. A welcome breeze blew in and the faint smell of dried hay and barnyard animal wafted through the tented tables. The shade, icy beer and farm scents were soothing, giving way to a moment to sit back and enjoy the simplistic Sunday setting. “Well,” Josh whispered over the tiny tapping of mallet to knife, a small grin forming out of the image6corner of his mouth, “now I want to get a lamb.”

If you go: Nancy encourages anyone to visit the farm, take a tour and see what they do daily. “We like when people visit,” she says. “We always tell people from the farmers market to visit the farm. They never do but we like it.” For more information, email jnene@aol.com or call 508-653-3212. Lightning Ridge Farm, 38 A Bullard Street, Sherborn Massachusetts

Exploring The Culinary Arts Certificate Program – And Why You Should Take It

Jacques Pepin instructs students how to
Jacques Pepin instructs students how to debone a chicken.

by Audrey Reid

The Culinary Arts Certificate Program at Boston University is one of a kind. It was founded by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin in 1989 when Pepin suggested turning their highly successful cooking seminars into a full semester course. The program was designed around French cuisine and technique but also highlights other ethnic dishes and cooking styles. The intent was not necessarily to produce chefs – although graduates have certainly pursued that goal – but to teach those interested in food how to cook. 

A class of 8-12 students has been held every semester since its beginning, and Pepin still makes guest appearances to teach. There are a few core instructors but the majority of classes are taught by a rotation of Boston’s best chefs (think diversity but also networking). The program also takes field trips to stage in local kitchens, visit producers, and work with other food professionals like writers and photographers. Additionally, students are exposed to cooking in volume by hosting large events for the Seminars in Food, Wine & the Arts. Upon graduation, students are very well rounded in cuisines, techniques, methodology, and Boston food culture.

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Culinary students preparing birthday cakes for Julia Child’s 100th birthday celebration.

Whether students want to go into the kitchen, use their knowledge to support other academic work, or just want to make dinner for friends and family, the Culinary Arts Certificate Program is worth every minute. 

If you aren’t convinced that you need to take this class, perhaps Katherine Shae and Tianyu (Cici) Ji can persuade you. Katherine and Cici are MLA Gastronomy students currently taking the Culinary Arts Program and were interviewed about their experience (and love for!) the class.

Interview with Katherine Shea, expected graduation in May 2014

  • Tell us a little bit about yourself.
  • I’m from West Hartford, CT. Most of my jobs previous to working in the food industry were related to teaching (both of my parents were teachers). I did a sustainable agriculture program in Italy for the last semester of my bachelors at UCONN and that is what prompted me to apply for the gastronomy program. Since the switch to gastronomy/food industry I’ve worked at a restaurant (Front of House) in Cape Cod, Whole Foods (Specialty), Allandale Farm and a couple other farms in Maine for the summer.
  • How far along in the program are you and what do you plan to do after graduation?
  • This is my last semester in the program and I am not entirely sure what I want to do with the degree but I would love to be in the field of Agriculture (perhaps policy).
  • Why did you chose to take the culinary arts certificate class? 
  • It is definitely the best class I’ve taken in the program. I chose to take it because I went to a Jacques Pepin lecture last year with my class and a fellow Gastronomy student asked Jacques what advice he has for people going into the field. His response was to start with learning how to cook. He explained how anything related to food: food writing, policy, business, all stems from the basics of cooking. Recently, our class had the pleasure of having Sheryl Julian visit and she reiterated that same notion. She explained that her training in Culinary allows her to understand exactly what it takes to make a dish that she is critiquing.
  • What do you hope to do with your culinary training?
  • I know that I won’t work in a professional kitchen after the program, but I am sure that the skills I’ve learned will be useful in my life and future career.
  • Would you recommend the class and why?
  • Until the Culinary program, I had no idea how much was behind just cooking. The technique and skill involved is amazing, and learning from the best chefs in Boston is an incredible experience. I think everyone in the Gastronomy program could benefit from trying the culinary program. I strongly urge Gastronomy students to take the culinary class, you will learn a ton, have fun, and make great connections in Boston!
Katherine and Cici hard at work.
Katherine and Cici hard at work.

Interview with Tianyu (Cici) Ji, expected graduation in December 2014

  • Where are you from? 
  • Beijing, China
  • Why did you choose the Gastronomy Program?
  • The Gastronomy program is a good combination of academic and hands-on experience.
  • What do you plan to do after graduation?
  • I would like to have a restaurant after studying in major food countries.
  • Why did you chose to take the culinary arts certificate class?
  • The culinary arts program is a one-of-a-kind experience in the world. Our instructors are from the business in Boston, and what they do are not only about techniques, but also good attitudes of persons in the industry. I learned a great deal from each and every one of them.
  • What do you enjoy about the culinary arts program?
  • The intensive program is well designed. There is one field trip almost every week plus special events in the semester. The chefs/instructors are helpful in the kitchen. I got the chance to stage in some of the best kitchens in Boston. This experience is so unique.
  • What has been your favorite dish to learn to cook?
  • I can’t really name a favorite dish, because they are all so fantastic. Cooking is not difficult, but it takes practice to make the good food right.
  • What has been the hardest part about the class?
  • Remembering the dishes in a short time. Learn to cook efficiently with recipes. Take notes.
      • Would you recommend the class, and why?
      • There is no better way to learn about food except for cooking it and tasting it. The culinary arts program allows me to think of food in a classic perspective and that is always important before going deeper about the gastronomic aspects. After all, food is for people to enjoy. I would be a great loss were I not in the culinary arts program.

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        Foie gras with figs and port.

For more information about the Culinary Arts Certificate Program, you can visit their webpage at http://www.bu.edu/foodandwine/culinary-arts/, email cularts@bu.edu, or call 617-353-9852.

Audrey Reid is president of the Gastronomy Students Association, manager of the Gastronomy at BU blog, and in her final semester of the Gastronomy Program. She has a BS in Chemistry, is a graduate of the Culinary Arts Program, and is earning her MLA with a concentration in Food Policy.