You may have heard of the comedian Tony Hawks who travelled round Ireland with a fridge and wrote a best selling book about his adventures. Bob wrote the book first then crossed America with three carcasses of mutton. OK, so we had a couple of cooler boxes and an aeroplane to help, but the arrangement was nevertheless, as they say over here, ‘kinda neat’.
The Livestock Conservancy, (America’s equivalent to The Rare Breeds Survival Trust), holds its conference each year in a different region in the States. Last year it was in Texas, this year it was California’s turn with Bob invited as the ‘keynote speaker’, which is how we found ourselves on our first visit to this amazingly diverse country. Now conference delegates need feeding and when it is rare breeds at the centre of the discussions and the theme is ‘Savor The Age of Flavor’, the food has to be sourced carefully. Various Livestock Conservancy members came forward with generous offers of wonderful produce and meat to be prepared at The Pink Flamingo Resort and Spa in Santa Rosa, the conference venue. (Before her tragic end, the film actress Jayne Mansfield was a regular visitor here and her frozen black and white image, standing in voluptuous pose by the hotel’s pool, still gazes down on us as we walk the corridor to the hotel bar). But field to fork can be a hazardous journey. Anyone in the food industry in UK will be familiar with the scrutiny of inspectors in white coats and the requirement for insurmountable piles of paperwork to be completed, checked, stamped and filed away tidily before any animal can be ‘dispatched’, jointed, packed and on its way for consumption. In America, the USDA, (United States Department of Agriculture) polices this operation. There are different rules for hunting and trapping, from deer or bear to wild turkey, as there are for home use and commercial. Suffice to say that eating places require USDA approval but most rare breed farmers operate on a relatively small scale supplying final consumer directly without needing that official stamp. Oogie and Ken McGuire have jumped through many hoops to gain the required seal of approval to supply their wonderful mutton to all and sundry. The fact that their farm and the conference are 1000 miles apart did not deter. We had a plan.
At "0'dark thirty" shortly after our arrival at Desert Weyr we had climbed into the back of the McGuire's immense Dodge truck to accompany 10 black Welsh Mountain sheep to the abattoir at Delta, west Colorado. We had helped load the sheep the previous evening and they had spent the night quietly pulling at the sweet hay in the trailer. Thirty miles on they were offloaded in an operation that had been both calm and stress free, reflecting the deep care the flock had been given throughout their lives. With a sigh we headed to the diner for breakfast.
Two weeks later we were back in Delta to pick up the coolers packed with select mutton joints, and on to the airport bound for California. I couldn’t help imagining the raised eyebrows at Heathrow if we had tried to transport frozen meat as extra baggage but at Grand Junction, Colorado the airport officials are used to dealing with the spoils of hunting, as long as there is no dry ice involved.
It was now over to the ‘Pink Flamingo’ chefs and with fingers crossed that the meat would be sympathetically prepared we handed over the chiller boxes. We need not have worried. At an afternoon workshop on ‘Making the Most of Mutton’ we had sampled flavoursome cuts from Fred’s 10 year old Shropshire ram, a downland breed popular with the Victorians, while Bob led us through a power point presentation on our ‘muttonised’ life. And now in the evening with discussion done for the day we sat down to dinner tucking in to another ancient breed enjoying the succulent flavours of Desert Weyr’s Black Welsh Mountain ewes, slowly cooked to perfection in spices and herbs. If this wasn't proof enough to the assembled crowd of the importance of maintaining and eating these rare breeds at least our audience were entertained by our after dinner presentation with endorsements through history of mutton’s long place at the table.
And although we may be divided by a common language it appeals to me that we are doing our bit to help put back the ‘ewes’ into savor and flavor!