Zach and I wandered into the food tent at the Amberly A&P show, where we knew the butchering demo would be taking place. Neither of knew what time it was, so we grabbed an IPA and made ourselves comfortable on a hay bale. We were chatting with Lyndal when a woman got on the microphone and asked for volunteers to guest judge for the Lamb portion of the upcoming Hoof to Hotplate competition. Lyndal, knowing how fond I am of eating, grabbed my elbow and shoved my hand into the air. Sure enough, I had a spot!
Zach also got a spot and we took our places at the guest judges table, located between the real judges table and the beef butchering demo that was taking place right next to us. We chit chatted a little with the other guest judges and were then presented with a spreadsheet and a glass of Pinot Noir. As I was trying to make sense of the spreadsheet, the master of ceremonies told the gathering crowd that we would be tasting twenty four different lambs.
Did she just say twenty four?!? But, how? Oh boy, not really sure what we got ourselves into.
The portions were about the size of a domino, prepared medium rare, and were scored on aroma, flavor, tenderness and texture. When the first bite arrived, I peered across to the real judges to check out how they were going about judging their meat, first sniffing, then cutting, chewing, pondering, and often doing it again. After about four different lambs and a refill on my pinot noir, I started to get the hang of it. The thing is though, they were all really good. Even the one that I ranked the lowest would have been a treat to have on the dinner table.
After about every six plates, there was a lull, during which we watched the butchering demo. The whole afternoon was really quite phenomenal. I had a parade of lamb bites going on in front of me, a crowd of 50 people to the side of me, and when I turned around, a cow carcass hanging behind me. The butchers wore chain mail gloves and worked their knives through this cow like a conductor in front of an orchestra. Zip, zip, zip! Three cuts and the skirt steak was out. Zip, Zip and there is your rib eye. My jaw fell open. Nick, the butcher from Harris Meats who was doing the demonstration, could butcher a half a cow in 1 minute and thirteen seconds. I did a half a pig in six hours. Hats off to you, man. During the butchering demo, Brian Harris was educating the crowd about abattoirs, knives, and why cuts are priced they way they are.
We had to leave before the finals round, so we did not get to find out how our taste buds compared to those of the judges, but that was just as well. After we left, two more volunteers took our places and got to share in the experience. I wrote down the numbers that I liked best and looked them up online afterward. For the record, my favorites were Sally and Malcom MacKenzie’s Dorset Down X and Denis Rhodes’ Poll Dorset X, Zach enjoyed Robert Sloss’ Romney Dorset Down X. We learned what type of lamb we enjoy and had the best seats in the house for enjoying the butchering demo. I couldn’t imagine a better way to experience the Amberly Show.