Lamb raised on Jamison farm in Unity lands on tables throughout country
John and Sukey Jamison are in the midst of their busy season.
The Christmas and New Year’s holidays are hectic for the sheep and lamb farmers as they fill mail orders from their website and orders for their customers at their farm in Unity.
Their all natural pasture-raised lamb, processed in their own nearby USDA plant, cut to order and shipped directly from their farm, has earned praise and orders from famous chefs such as the late Julia Child and award-winning French chef Jean-Louis Palladin of the Watergate Hotel’s Jean-Louis Restaurant in Washington, D.C.
They continue to serve some of the finest restaurants in Pittsburgh, New York City and as far away as Atlanta and Birmingham, Ala., with their meats that are a cut above the rest.
“We sell lots of lamb this time of year,” Sukey says. “We filled close to 100 orders for leg of lamb for Christmas. For New Year’s celebrations, people tend to prefer rack of lamb.”
Other popular items they sell include ground lamb in 10-pound packages, lollipop rib chops and three types of sausage, in addition to a winter favorite, Sukey’s rich lamb barley soup made with lamb stock and fresh vegetables, sold in 24-ounce containers.
“You just heat it and eat it,” she says.
Recollections and recipes
Busy managing their 212-acre farm that produces some 3,000 lambs annually, growing their business and raising three children, the couple found the time to write and publish a new book that gives a glimpse into their struggles and accomplishments over the past 40 years.
“Coyotes in the Pasture and Wolves at the Door” (Word Association Publishers, $35) also includes 25 family recipes created by Sukey that feature various cuts of lamb in dishes such as Lamb Tenderloin with Mushrooms, Jamison Farm Lamb Liver Pâté, Braised Lamb Shanks and Best-Ever Lamb Burgers.
John says there’s a reason why their lamb has such a mild and sweet flavor.
“It’s because the grass here is so good,” he says. “It’s like Napa Valley for lamb. The mild taste changes with the seasons.”
Their flock of sheep and lambs feeds on pastures of bluegrass, white clover, wildflowers and seasonal grass pastures from spring to fall. In the winter months, they have access to free-choice hay bales. Their 100 percent natural diet and free-range lifestyle produces meat that is lean, firm, tender, delicate and pink, free of hormones, antibiotics, herbicides and insecticides, John says.
A new direction
The couple didn’t set out to become sheep farmers.
John, from Greensburg, and Sukey, from Cincinnati, Ohio, met while attending prep schools in Massachusetts and Philadelphia, respectively — and both attended Washington and Jefferson College, where they were English majors and Sukey was W&J’s first female graduate.
They married and lived and worked in Kansas before returning to Western Pennsylvania. They bought a 65-acre farm in Pleasant Unity in 1976 and moved to their current larger farm in 1985. They decided to raise sheep “because they were smaller than cows,” Sukey says, and they thought it might be a good experience for their three young children.
As their children and their business grew, word spread in culinary circles about their lamb. They became friends with Julia Child and visited her in Cambridge, Mass., after the famous chef began using their meat in her recipes.
In their book, they talk about their experience when the “Jamison Farm met Hollywood” during the filming of the “The Silence of the Lambs” movie in and around Pittsburgh in 1989-1990. Through a call from the Pittsburgh Film Office, they agreed to bring a few of their flock to the William Penn Hotel downtown for a photo shoot with Jodie Foster, star of the film with Anthony Hopkins.
As part of a growing wave of farmers dedicated to local, sustainable agriculture, Jamison Farm was honored as the 2017 Conservation Farmer of the Year by the Westmoreland Conservation District for its rotational grazing practices that produces grass-fed meat and does not require plowing or fertilizing.
“It has never been a lucrative business,” John writes. “For two children of the ‘60s, though, we are very happy … We feel we have been part of the ‘food revolution’ that has taken over on so many levels. We do feel somewhat immodestly that we paved the ways for many younger farmers who are now able to raise a family and have a future on a farm.”
They shared a few recipes from “Coyotes in the Pasture and Wolves at the Door,” which is available from their website, www.jamisonfarm.com.
John says that Braised Lamb Shanks is a great winter dish that features deglazing with gin, giving it “a hint of juniper that does wonders with the wine, tomatoes and other vegetables.”
Braised Lamb Shanks
¼ cup olive oil
4 lamb shanks
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery
2 tablespoons gin
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 sprigs fresh thyme
3 sprigs fresh sage
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 cups white wine
1 quart lamb stock or chicken stock
Preheat oven to 325°F.
On the top of the stove, heat the oil in large heavy roasting pan, over medium-high heat. Add the shanks and brown on all sides. Add the onions, carrots, and celery, and stir until the vegetables are lightly browned. Add the gin and tomato paste and cook, scraping brown bits from bottom and sides of pan. Add the thyme, sage, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and pepper; stirring until they are well mixed. Add the wine and enough stock to cover the shanks. Bring to a boil, then place the roasting pan in the oven and cook until shanks are very tender, 2–3 hours.
Transfer the shanks and vegetables to plates or a platter. Strain the broth, then return to the pan. Cook on the top of the stove over high heat until the sauce has reduced and thickened. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Spoon the hot sauce over the lamb shanks and vegetables.
Serve shank whole on the bone, one per person, or meat can be removed from bones and served with rice, couscous or polenta, covered with stock.
“My mother did not like to cook,” John says. “When I was a skinny teenager, I mastered spaghetti in order to fuel my and my younger brother’s growing selves. My one culinary accomplishment was influenced by Mrs. Mary Carbone’s meat sauce at Carbone’s restaurant in Crabtree … The sauce is so good when it’s made with our lamb.”
Meaty Lamb Pasta Sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 pounds ground lamb
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
2 cloves garlic chopped with 1 teaspoon salt
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (28-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon honey
Heat olive oil in heavy stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and sauté until soft, about 10 minutes.
Stir in the Italian seasonings, basil, salt and pepper, and garlic as the lamb is browning.
Add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and crushed tomatoes. Swish the cans with a little water to retrieve all juices and add those to the sauce. Add the honey.
Bring sauce to a vigorous simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cook at a simmer for 2–3 hours. Add more water, ½ cup at a time, if sauce is too thick.
As the Lamb Loin Roast has both the loin and tenderloin, you get the firmer texture of the strip loin along with the buttery texture of the lamb tenderloin. “Here is a beautiful cut, treated with a simple mixture and then roasted: a true delicacy,” John says.
Boneless Lamb Loin Roast
The Herb Rub
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon dried basil
¼ cup minced onion
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
3 pounds boneless lamb loin, rolled and tied
For the herb rub, mix together the garlic, parsley, basil, and onion in a small bowl.
If the roast is untied, rub the inside of the roast with the herb mixture. If the roast is tied, use a long, thin very sharp knife to make a slit through the middle of the loin. Work from both ends if your knife isn’t long enough to pierce through the whole roast. Then use a long-handled wooden spoon to widen the hole and to stuff the herb rub into center of loin. Rub salt and pepper over outside of roast.
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Place roast in roasting pan and roast for 1 hour.
Increase the temperature to 425°F. Roast until the internal temperature registers 130°F on an instant read thermometer, 15-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the roast rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.