Friday, March 8, 2019

Agneau de Lait – Milk-fed Baby Lamb in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Agneau de Lait – Milk-fed Lamb.
Many lamb aficionados consider Agneau de Lait, milk-fed baby lamb, to be the best lamb that money can buy. As may be expected the meat of milk-fed baby lamb will be very light in color, practically white, with a slightly sweet and delicate nutty taste while its texture is soft and tender. The very best milk-fed lambs have a Label Rouge, red label, accreditation and IGP certification that verifies that the lambs are raised by their mothers, free of antibiotics and growth hormones in a free-range environment with the IGP identifying the area. The Label Rouge requirements mean natural grazing on grass and wildflowers on 10 hectares for every sheep for at least six months a year. (Each hectare is 10,000 sq.m. (12,000 sq yards).

Agneau de Lait des Pyrénées Légumes Epicés
Lamb from the Pyrenees prepared with vegetables and Spices.
All the  Label Rouge, Agneau de Lait lambs come from flocks that are bred for their milk and from their milk comes fabulous cheeses. But the males will not grow up and provide the milk and so at 20 - 45 days old they will be on the menu. Every year each group of lambs must pass an organoleptic test, a test of taste, smell and texture to retain their red label.
Label Rouge, milk-fed lamb on French menus:
Agneau de Lait des Pyrénées Grilloté aux Pignes de Pin- - Milk-fed Label Rouge Lamb from the Pyrenees grilled with pine nuts.
Agneau de Lait Rôti à l'Ail Doux, Coco de Paimpol - Milk-fed lamb roasted on sweet garlic and served with France’s only AOP semi-dry bean the Coco de Paimpol from Brittany.

Bandérillas d’Epaule d’Agneau de Lait des Pyrénées Confites à la Sauge
Skewers from a shoulder slowly cooked Label Rouge milk-fed lamb from the Pyrenees flavored with sage.
Carré d'Agneau de Lait Élevé Sous la Mère, Rôti au Four -  A rack of milk-fed lamb raised by its mother roasted in the oven, A whole rack is13 ribs but only the bottom six will be served in most French restaurants.

Couronne d’Agneau de Lait et sa Croute aux Fines Herbes - A crown of lamb, made up of two racks prepared in the shape of a crown and in this menu listing cooked in a covering of the herb group Les fine Herbs. This is the most important herb group in French cuisine; it includes Cerfeuil, Chervil; Ciboulette, Chives; Estragon, Tarragon; Persil, Parsley and Thym, Thyme. These herbs are mild but offer a unique and memorable aroma and flavor.  No dried herbs will be used as most dried herbs will have lost their taste and those that don’t acquire a completely different taste. France’s market gardeners make sure that all the herbs are available all year round.
Épaule d’Agneau de Lait des Pyrénées Braisé à l’Ail et au Thym, Purée de Pomme de Terre et Concassé de Tomates – A shoulder of the milk-fed Label Rouge lamb from the Pyrennees braised in garlic and thyme, served with potato puree and a chopped tomatoes.
Depending on the breed there may be one or two lambing seasons a year, but Easter is the season with the highest demand. A milk-fed lamb weighs 7-9 kilos (15 – 20 lbs).  However, Easter moves around the Gregorian calendar every year and since the farmer’s primary business is milk and cheese if Easter is late, then the lamb on the Easter menu may be an Agneau Laiton which is a young lamb between 70 – 140 days then it's likely to be on the menus as an Agneau de Printemps, a spring lamb.
Gigot d’Agneau de Lait au Foin, Fricassée d’Asperges Blanches d’Alsace à l’Ail des Ours
Roasted leg of milk-fed lamb prepared on a bed of straw and accompanied by a stew of white Alsatian asparagus prepared with wild garlic.
In the Pyrenees, the sheep were left alone even during the Autumn lambing season with no daily milking, since all the milk is needed for the baby lambs.  However, wolves and bears are now protected and returning to these areas. As the wild animal populations increase shepherds and guard dogs have also returned.  The sheep in a group can fend for themselves, but a lamb that has strayed just a few yards is an easy catch.
These sheep need shepherds
There is an active and growing population of wolves and bears in the Pyrenees.
Three of the Label Rouge milk-fed baby lambs groups come from the newly created (1-1-2016) super region of Nouvelle Aquitaine. They are the Pauillac, the Perigord, and the Pyrénées; the latter includes the lambs with the Axuria and the Pays Basque labels. The fourth Label Rouge milk-fed baby lambs come from the Alsace, now part of the super region of the Grand Est.
Sheep farming for cheese is an important industry, and  Nouvelle Aquitaine in the center and south-west of France and old region of the Alsace in the North-east in the Grande Est are the most important sources. 
The sheep that provide the milk-fed lambs come from herds that supply the milk for France’s three AOP sheep’s cheeses, the blue patterned Roquefort, the ivory colored Ossau-lraty and the Brocciu from Corsica. But like the hundreds of French cow's milk cheeses without and AOC or AOP there are tens of sheep’s milk cheeses that are well worth knowing including:  
Cazelle de Saint Affrique, Faisselle, Saint-Nicolas De La Dalmerie, Tomette, Bessous, Perail, Escadut, Barousse, Bleu de Corse, Cant' Auriol, Fédou,  Foissac Saint Hilaire, Fleur de Maquis, La Brique de Ségala, La Petit Polignac, La Roue de Ris, Saint Nicolas, U Lentu, Venaco. Visit fromageries, cheese shops, as you travel around France and ask. 
Roquefort cheese.
For another tasty lamb dish look on the menus for the Agneau de Pré- Salém, salt meadows lamb from Normandy and the department of Somme in the super region of Hauts-de-France in France’s north-west.

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Bryan G. Newman

Behind The French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2019.

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