Hantamlam, neem my hand…

March 10th, 2016 § 2 comments

The hipsters can keep their bacon. My heart belongs to lamb. South African lamb from the Karoo, to be exact. Possibly the best in the world, renowned for its herbaceous, tender meat.

The Woordfees is in full swing in Stellenbosch and despite an extensive festival program, it was Bertus Basson’s tasting of Merino lamb from four districts around South Africa that caught my eye. Four legs of lamb prepared in the exact same way, alongside four award-winning Veritas wines. We had to taste and score the lamb individually and pair each with a wine. Not unlike speed dating for the taste buds.

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The legs were vacuum packed and sous vide cooked overnight at 65 degrees Celsius, with no seasoning to detract from the natural flavour of the lamb. The sliced lamb was served with Maldon salt and Bertus requested that we first taste the lamb unseasoned, before reaching for the salt.

Number 1: Swartland  To me, this represented average, good quality lamb found in supermarkets. Not particularly herbaceous, with a medium texture. I enjoyed the strip of fat but made use of the Maldon salt provided – want wie wil nou brak vet eet?

Number 2: Hantam  Ek moet bieg, dit was die woord ‘Hantam’ wat my die kaartjie laat koop het. Die Hantamland trap diep spore in die Afrikaanse digkuns en ek’s nie skaam om te erken dat ek iets wou eet wat gewei het op die bossies van hierdie sielvolle stuk aarde nie. Hoe proe die plek? Doeksag en diep lekker. Dit was my, sowel as die meerderhied van die mense in die vertrek, se gunsteling. Soet van geur en sag van tekstuur. O Hantamlam, neem my hand… 

Number 3: Steynsburg  This one was quite challenging. But in a good way. An excellent example of herbaceous South African lamb. Sharper-flavoured than the rest, with an almost goat-like, wild character. Full-flavoured, with a robust texture. This lamb had lived!

Number 4: Riversdal  Ek voel sleg om dit te sê, want my ouma is van Riversdal, maar hierdie lam was die minste lekker. Donker van kleur met ‘n draderige grein en wynig van die soetheid of subtiele kruiegeure wat SA lam so fantasties maak. Dit het, om die waarheid te sê, meer na ‘n twee-tand of volbek gelyk en geproe. Dalk het skaap se kind met die doodslag sy vesels oorkruis geskrik.

My palate is easily overwhelmed by hurried food and wine pairing. I’m more inclined to order a bottle of good food wine and drink it throughout the meal, than change drinks with each course. It all seems a bit manic to me. Every now and then a food and wine pairing is sheer bliss but for the most part, I think it’s a hit-and-miss show. My two favourite wines, the Spier Reserve Cab and the delicious Flagstone Shiraz, paired the best with all of the meat.

Rosendal Reserve Hilltop Merlot 2011  A soft, accommodating wine that did a good job of supporting the lamb.

Perdeberg Winery The Dry Land Collection Pinotage 2011 A bit of a palate stripper in this setting, as it overpowered the subtle flavours of the unseasoned lamb. I avoided it after the second sip.

Spier Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012  Paired beautifully with all the cuts. I had a perfect moment when after a bite of the Hantam lamb, followed by a small sip, the flavour of the lamb rebounded beautifully in my mouth, emboldened by the wine. Talk about feelgood mouthfeel.

Flagstone Dark Horse Shiraz 2011  A delicious wine that briefly made me forget about the lamb. I drained my glass.

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The tasting was at 13h00 and I arrived hungry. At a certain point I did miss roast potatoes and perhaps a few green beans, maar dit was nie daai tipe jol nie. Bertus did serve a side of interesting facts about lamb in general, and Karoo lamb in particular.

  • The first Merinos to arrive in SA were a gift from the Spanish king to the Dutch but the poor creatures could not cope with Holland’s grim weather, so were sent to recuperate in the dry plains of the Kolonie.
  • Merinos are good all-rounders, producing abundant wool and meat.
  • As Karoo lamb made a name for itself, the question arose – what is Karoo and what is not – as lamb producers in many districts wanted their meat certified as “Karoo lamb”. The distinctive herbaceous flavour of Karoo lamb is determined by diet. Seven typical Karoo bushes occur naturally in the heart of the Karoo, and in peripheral districts the presence of at least 5 of the 7 bushes must be verified by an inspector for the lamb to be certified as from the Karoo.
  • A lamb is a lamb while it has its milk teeth. A young sheep with two permanent teeth is called a hogget (sounds quite Hogwarthian, doesn’t it) and from then onwards it’s downhill to mutton status. I can’t even write ‘mutton’ without an image of a dolla in leopard-print leggings and dikhak Louboutin rip-offs coming to mind. Sheep of a certain age need to OWN it again.

If you want to know the names of the seven bossies and the boundaries of the true Karoo, visit the Karoo Meat of Origin site. I was horrified to find that my family farm outside of the Schedule A bossie-invested heart of the Karoo (green on the map). But my cousin has reassured me they are JUST south of the boundary and their sheep dine on the required veld food. Good to know my lifelong love affair with “Karoo lamb” is not based on a misguided assumption. I would have needed counselling!

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Click on the map for a better look, or visit the site. To get back to our 4 Merinos, Swartland and Riversdal are not part of the Karoo at all, and Hantam and Steynsburg (Gariep district) are Schedule B (orange on the map). I thought the Merino tasting was an inspired idea, expertly executed. It would have been lovely to eat from the heart of the Karoo, where all the fragrant bossies permeate the meat.

The second tasting on Friday 11 March sold out before we took our first bite, so if you don’t have tickets, we should all bug Bertus Basson to do it again. It felt good to lavish so much attention on one of our greatest food treasures. The lamb must never be taken for granted.

For more on the Stellenbosch Woorfees, visit http://www.sun.ac.za/afrikaans/woordfees


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§ 2 Responses to Hantamlam, neem my hand…"

  • Karen says:

    Yum! What a great account of a lamb/wine pairing – am keen to attend one soon (and find some real Karoo lamb). Perhaps worth a short journey north?

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