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Great 28: Cheese + Lamb

cheese and lamb

The Great 28 is featured in our annual Cheese Pairings issue

While a popular menu item in many parts of the world, lamb is not a common order in the United States. In fact, the average American consumes less than a pound of the protein per year, compared to nearly 200 pounds of beef, pork, and chicken. Why? Some blame World War II, during which it is said that American soldiers ate a great deal of mutton. As a result, the men returned to the States with an aversion to the gamy meat, associated it with lamb, and passed the distaste on to their families.

Outside of American cuisine, lamb is a celebrated dish. It’s a cornerstone of Greek and Middle Eastern cookery and is often prepared with a variety of warm spices and served with a cooling yogurt sauce. We believe all turophiles should try it—if the classic pairing of yogurt is any hint, this meat is meant to be matched with dairy.

Lamb Chops

Chops can come from the rib, loin, sirloin, or shoulder of the lamb, and usually contain a rib bone. Whichever you pick, select a cut that features a good deal of marbling to ensure the most flavor. When it comes to cheese, Holly Kenna, general manager of New York’s Bedford Cheese Shop, recommends something mellow and bright as a contrast to the gamy meat, like a super creamy blue. Or, crumble ricotta salata atop your chops to amplify the dish’s savory notes.

Recommended Pairings 
La Ferme de la Tremblaye Persillé de Chèvre
+ lamb chops
Marcelli Formaggi Ricotta Peperoncino + lamb chops

Lamb Meatballs

Sohail Zandi, chef and co-owner of Brushland Eating House in Bovina, N.Y., suggests topping lamb meatballs—traditionally mixed with herbs and spices like coriander, oregano, and mint—with washed-rind Prufrock. “It’s a pungent square balanced by notes of ripe Mediterranean fruits, toasted nuts, and a lingering saltiness—the perfect complement to the gaminess of lamb,” he says. Can’t find Prufrock in your neck of the woods? French Pont l’Évêque, the cheese that inspired the Martha’s Vineyard stinker, will do just fine.

Recommended Pairings
Grey Barn and Farm Prufrock + lamb meatballs
Pont l’Évêque PDO + lamb meatballs

Leg of Lamb

The leanest of the cuts, leg of lamb can be served with or without the bone, though leaving the bone in boosts the flavor of the meat (and raises the level of your presentation). When preparing leg of lamb, Connor Pelcher, associate director of sales at Murray’s Cheese, suggests considering the “complex flavor of roast lamb: salty, earthy, gamy, and meaty,” to get the most out of the experience. To match these flavors, Pelcher recommends mizithra, a Greek cheese made from whey. To contrast, look to Hudson Flower, a soft-ripened sheep’s milk wheel with light, bright flavors and an herb-rubbed rind.

Recommended Pairings
Greek Isle Mizithra + leg of lamb
Murray’s Cavemaster Reserve Hudson Flower + leg of lamb

Photography by gerenme/iStockphoto.com

Gabrielle Sierra

Gabrielle Sierra is a writer from Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared on Gothamist, Paste, Billboard, MySpace, Narratively, and Metro. She is also the co-founder of a newsletter and website called High-Strung.

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