Kentucky Lamb Heritage


Baaaaa-ck to the Future

Today Kentucky is known the world over for producing world-class horses and award-winning bourbon. But the culinary heritage of Kentucky is even more rich than many may realize.

While it might not be well known, Kentucky used to be central to lamb production in America. During the 19th century, Kentucky received a large influx of Scotch and Irish immigrants who upon settling in Kentucky, relied on their previous experience farming sheep and established one of the largest sheep producing regions in the country.

During this period, sheep were generally produced for their wool. Since today’s synthetic fabrics were not available at the time, most textiles heavily relied on agricultural materials – specifically cotton and wool. Producing lamb for wool was a good way to generate income – a single animal could provide multiple yields over its lifetime, where producing animals for their meat only provides one yield. The disadvantage to this was at the end of the animals productive life cycle, the sheep was older and essentially the meat was quite tough. It was also critical to utilize as much of an animal as possible – to extract as much value as a farmer could.

Because of the characteristics of this older meat, the smart folks of Western Kentucky employed a cooking method that was common across the south – barbeque. By slowly cooking the meat, it was tenderized, and the smoke used in the cooking process also helped to calm some of the stronger game flavors that were common in the mutton. For many decades, Mutton BBQ was a staple of Western Kentucky. But that trend faded over time.

The decrease in sheep production was a result of the mass industrialization of synthetic fabrics. As the demand decreased for agriculturally-produced fabric materials (wool), the viability of lamb production in Kentucky did as well.

We’re honored to be reviving this piece of Kentucky’s culinary heritage.

It’s been an honor to work with chefs throughout Kentucky and see their ability, skill and creativity as they utilize Freedom Run Farm on their menus.