NEW Zealand is taking lamb production to the next level, producing what some call “Wagyu of the sheep world”.
The Omega Lamb Project (OLP) aims to produce the world's tastiest, healthiest lamb while increasing returns for farmers. It is targeting premium markets through a new type of lamb with higher levels of polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids.
The project is a Primary Growth Partnership program involving leading food company, Alliance, a group of innovative farmers known as Headwaters and the NZ Ministry for Primary Industries.
DURING the past 20 years the sheep industry has focused on increasing lamb productivity and yield, selecting animals for lower fat levels.
Reducing fat content has had unintended consequences on processing, cooking and taste of red meat. This lower condition also affects how well ewes cope in winter and raise lambs.
The OLP saw the chance to breed lambs that increase returns for farmers while meeting the growing demand for premium healthy, tasty food.
OLP general manager, Mike Tate, said it was while breeding sheep to be healthier and better adapted to the harsher high-country environment in 2011 that “we had a eureka moment”.
“It was the fats in lamb, not lean muscle, that were the key, both for animal and consumer. This led to years of extensive research, discovery and natural breeding of sheep with a different type of fat, an intramuscular fat, higher in Omega-3 with marbling on a micro‐scale – something never before seen in lamb,” he said.
“We took this new breed and researched rearing locations and conditions, farming practices and finishing grazing to produce an entirely new eating experience. This was achieved using natural breeding, outdoor, pasture-based farming, but underpinned by modern individual animal recording and product analysis.”
RESEARCH found the right combination of genetics, management and pasture could change the types and amount of fat. OLP takes a new approach to naturally breeding and marketing premium NZ lamb.
It has developed Te Mana Lamb, a new kind of lamb with higher levels of polyunsaturated (good) fats and omega-3 fatty acids – producing healthier sheep and healthier, more succulent meat.
Te Mana lamb is a potential big money spinner.
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Alliance general manager marketing, Peter Russell, NZ, said there has been an extremely positive response from chefs and the feedback from multiple taste panels shows the extra “good fats” really enhance succulence and eating quality.
“Te Mana Lamb is driving a whole new approach to lamb. We see it as heralding a re-birth of different lamb dishes and the reaffirmation of NZ as the home of the world’s best lamb. It is also an opportunity to increase the total value of lamb and the share of value captured in NZ,” he said.
“It is a luxury ingredient and priced at that level. In the marketplace, it has been compared with Wagyu beef, truffles and caviar for products which diners can justify paying a premium for.”
October 2016 saw a Te Mana Lamb dish win the silver medal in the Culinary Olympics in Germany.
Te Mana Lamb has been launched onto the menu of a limited number of premium restaurants in NZ and Hong Kong and is included in NZ’s award-winning home delivery service, My Food Bag.
Mr Russell said there has been some interest from Australia and they are actively considering options to serve this market.