What's that, you ask?
Custom cut lamb, especially freezer lamb, is all about value:
1. You, the consumer, buy your lamb directly from me, the producer, without the middle men (wholesaler, processing plants, distributors, and retailers) getting in on the act and adding more $ to the price of your lamb. This part of "custom cut" is what we call direct marketing - a little bit better price for you, and a little bit better price for me (I don't go bankrupt quite as fast). Your price will be best if you purchase a "freezer lamb," but you will still get excellent value purchasing retail cuts.
You also know exactly where and how the lamb was raised. We place a premium on quality. Our lambs for custom cut are not given antibiotics. We do not use chemical fertilizers or pesticides on our pastures. We do not feed our lambs additive-laden feeds; just grass, grain, hay, and lamb feed of grain and soy meal. Our lambs are all raised on open pasture, not confined in feed lots, and generally have a pretty darned happy existence.
2. You get to say how you like your lamb prepared when you purchase a freezer lamb - if you want rib chops instead of a rack, you get it, without having to settle for what all those middle men in # 1 that make and sell the pre-packaged meats in the grocery store decide you should have. How thick do you want your sirloin slices? You decide.
We also offer a wider variety of cuts in our retail packages than we have found in our northern Virginia grocery stores, even though you can't specify exactly how thick you want those sirloin steaks. Of course, this is a bit more expensive than freezer lamb, comparable to what you will pay for the gourmet organic cuts at your local high-end retailer, but you know exactly where your meat came from and how it was raised.
3. All of this choice comes with one small catch - you buy your freezer lamb "on the hoof," I deliver it to the processor along with your instructions (see #2), and you pick up the finished frozen packages from the processor and take it home. Yes, that means the whole lamb. But not to worry....
But I don't know anything other than rib chops and leg roasts....
The American Lamb Board has a terrific guide to the more common ways the primal cuts (shoulder, rack, loin, leg, etc.) can be butchered. The chart is set up with primal cuts as the column headers, and the ways each cut can be custom butchered are shown below.
But where do I put it all?
That's really not such a big issue for most people. The finished product takes up a lot less room in the freezer than it did in the field. How much space it takes in your freezer depends on how large a lamb you purchase and how you have it butchered. For example, a whole leg with the bone in, takes a lot more space than a boneless rolled leg roast. In general, I have found that I can get two lambs in the big basket in the bottom of my upright freezer, if I don't have those whole legs....
Many of our customers first try custom cut in small doses - going in with family or friends to purchase the lamb. The group decides who gets what, how to cut it, who pays whom how much, and who picks up the product. Many of these customers find that "all that lamb" wasn't as scary as they had thought, and go it alone on their subsequent purchases.
But what will I do with all that lamb?
If you need recipes and serving suggestions, we'll be happy to help you out with some of our favorite recipes and cookbook suggestions. You can do a lot more than just roasts (although they are almost too good, with the right herbs and spices) and chops. We love Moroccan meatballs and couscous, French style lamb stews, burgers with feta cheese, barbequed riblets, stuffed brisket, and more. For suggestions and/or recipes, just ask us!
So how much do I actually save?
This can be a bit tricky to pin down to a one size fits all answer, because market prices fluctuate, depending on time of year, availability, demand, quality, geographic location, and so on. Also, when you purchase meats at your retail food store, each cut is priced separately: rib chops cost significantly more per pound than front shanks. When you purchase your lamb for custom cut freezer lamb, the lamb has a single price per pound, live weight, based on current market prices. But a little simple math can get you a pretty good basis for comparison.
The example below is not current, but you can figure it out using the same formula - just ask our current prices:
January 2007 prices for lamb at a northern Virginia major food retailer ranged from $4.99/lb. for shoulder arm chops to $13.99/lb. for loin chops. Not all parts of the lamb were available for purchase, so I made a SWAG at the price of the cuts that weren't displayed (cuts that I usually have processed as stew meat or ground) based on the price of lean ground beef at $4.49/lb. The lamb available at the grocery store was not choice or prime grade, and was not locally raised.
I used these retail prices and the net (processed and packaged) weights of one of our lambs when I picked it up from the processer to calculate what an end consumer would have paid if purchased at the grocery store. Then I factored in the added value of clean meat from a known source, as well as the better appearance of the meat - using a factor of 15% to approximate the prices at the gourmet meats counter (which had no lamb) where our lamb would be marketed.
The 2007 results? At basic supermarket prices, the whole lamb would have cost about $290.00. With the quality factor added, it would have cost $335.00. Purchased from Willow Hawk Farm, the lamb would cost the consumer $195.00 for the lamb plus $75 for processing, a total of $260.00. Our customer would get the gourmet quality lamb not available in the local grocery chains, for about $75 less than the store price for the premium quality lamb.
Just contact us, and we'll be happy to help!