If you’ve ever taken a close look at the lamb that floods the grocery stores around this time each year, you might have noticed that it nearly all comes from New Zealand or Australia. Even our neighborhood butcher, who sources most of his meat from here in Virginia, gets his lamb from outside the area. But looking to create a more sustainable Passover/Easter menu last year (we celebrate both, so Easter dinner is usually leavening-free, though not strictly Kosher), I was thrilled to meet the “lamb lady,” Elaine Boland, at our local organic grocer, MOM’s. We served her leg of lamb last Easter and found it to be the freshest, most tender, and flavorful lamb any of us had ever tasted.
Sadly, MOM’s no longer stocks Elaine’s lamb (they have a largely vegetarian customer base), so on a recent sunny spring day my sister-in-law, the toddler and I hit the road to visit the farm in person. Fields of Athenry, near Middleburg, Va., is just over an hour’s drive from the District. The family farm is nestled in the foot hills of the Bull Run Mountains, and the drive through Virginia’s horse country with freshly blossoming trees and new spring grass just popping up could not be more refreshing.
Pulling up to the stately country house, a troupe of friendly dogs rushed out to greet us. A voice called from down the hill, beckoning us down to the watering station and chicken coop. Geese chased each other in the pond, while ewes and lambs lazed about in the sun. A chicken sauntered up and lured the toddler to follow him over to see the chickens and (heritage) turkeys nesting. Two llamas and a horse rounded out the menagerie, all looking content as they soaked up the sun on the grassy hillside.
After visiting with the animals, we ventured into the store. A children’s area with chalk and crayons kept the boy entertained while Elaine and her assistant filled me in on the freshly processed, 30-day aged Black Angus beef that had literally just arrived from the butcher. (Cows and additional sheep are pastured at other locations nearby in Virginia and Pennsylvania.) I picked up some NY strip and short ribs, and selected a lamb shoulder from the freezer. They had just sold most of the lamb to one of the local restaurants they supply. (Last summer, we sampled the phenomenal Baa Baa Black Sheep pizza, with Athenry’s lamb sausage, feta, tomatoes, spinach and balsamic glaze, at Fireworks Wood-Fired Pizza in Leesburg – which, incidentally, has an impressive craft beer list as well as locally-sourced pizza toppings.)
As we witnessed, all the animals raised by Fields of Athenry are able to roam and graze freely, grass-fed and well cared for. In fact, their methods met Alice Waters’ exacting standards and Athenry’s lamb was served at Waters’ exclusive Inaugural dinner party earlier this year.
We had arrived near closing time, and Elaine was rushing out to pick up her kids from school, but took a minute to invite the boy inside the house to meet her 14-day-old puppies. He had been pretty excited by the geese and sheep, (singing “We’re going to the sheep farm, the sheep farm…” as he got dressed that morning) but the look of pride and wonder as he gently held a tiny puppy under his arm was truly priceless. (Click here for more photos from our visit.)
Fields of Athenry is open this weekend (Sat. 10am-3pm, closed Sundays), and is accepting orders for Easter weekend until noon next Weds., April 8. (Note that they will be closed Easter Saturday, so all orders will have to be picked up by Friday, April 10.) They deliver to various drop-off points in Loudoun County (see below), and with enough interest, may be able to arrange a drop-off in Northern Virginia – so do sign up for their email list and let them know if you’d be interested. And if you’d like to visit the farm, be sure to check the event schedule for upcoming “Farm to Community Health Outreach” seminars.
Where to Find: Fields of Athenry’s sustainable meat products (lamb/beef/chicken and heritage turkey for Thanksgiving) are delivered by pre-order to locations in Broadlands, Ashburn, Leesburg and Reston, and are available at the farm five days a week (Mon., Tues., Thurs., Fri. and Sat.).
And, their meats are served at Equinox in DC and these Loudoun County, Va., restaurants: Good Stone Inn, Tuscarora Mill, South Street Under, Fireworks, Midas Touch, Bluemont Vineyards, Natural Mercantile of Hamilton, thewinekitchen, Vintage 50, and American Flatbread.
Lastly, one of my favorite Passover/Easter lamb recipes is “Roasted leg of lamb with Artichokes” from Gourmet. I’ve also made one with a shallot red wine sauce, but can’t find it at the moment.
(Shared with Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday – check out the round-up for great info and ideas from fellow real foodies.)