You can enjoy some of Craig Rogers’ lamb meat cooked over embers and served with onions, turnip and peach mostards for $38 at Sean Brock’s acclaimed McCrady’s restaurant in Charleston, S.C., or roasted, braised and served with pomegranate sauce and chickpeas as part of the similarly priced tasting menu at James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Solomonov’s Zahav restaurant right here in Philly. Or you can buy lamb shoulder at Rogers’ new Border Springs Farm lamb stand in the Market for $7.50 a pound, cook it at home and wow your friends and family yourself.
In large part because of his lambs’ popularity with celebrity chefs, Rogers is probably the most famous sheep herder in America. Philadelphians have one of their own most famous local chefs to thank for introducing him to the Market.
Top Chef winner Jennifer Carroll served Rogers’ lamb when she was chef at 10 Arts. Hearing that Rogers had opened his first permanent retail stand in D.C.‘s newly redesigned Union Market, she “shepherded” him to Reading management just when Basic Four Vegetarian’s old stand became available.
Market merchant is only the latest surprising career twist for Rogers, who has actually only been a shepherd for about 10 years. A longtime academic, Rogers was teaching engineering at Virginia Tech when an on-campus sheepdog competition prompted him to buy some border collies. It was only after he entered them in competitive trials and noticed that “the guy who owned the most sheep usually won,” that he became a sheep herder.
But not just any kind of sheep herder. Since this was kind of a hobby/business, Rogers decided to do it right, feeding his lambs only the sweetest grasses to produce the most luscious, all-natural meat. He also follows humane slaughtering practices and dry ages the meat for a week, instead of commercial processors’ usual single day, despite the greater loss of meat weight. “It makes for incredibly tender meat,” Rogers explains.
No wonder famous chefs flock to him for it. The problem, though, says Rogers, is that most of these chefs want rack of lamb, “there are only two racks on a lamb and they make up only about 3 pounds of a 45-pound carcass. Now I have to figure out what to do with the other 42 pounds.”
Hence his new D.C. and Philadelphia retail stands. His month-old Reading Terminal Market one is set up to serve both local home chefs and eaters. The former can buy all-lamb sausage (casings included) as well as just about every lamb cut you can imagine, all only about nine days from running around Rogers’ Patrick Springs, Va., fields. (The farm name is derived from border collies and his town’s name.) The lamb short ribs and chops dressed with nothing more than olive oil and a little black pepper are ideal for summertime grilling, says Rogers.
The less-culinarily-inclined will probably be more interested in Border Springs’ rotating menu of prepared-food dishes — sandwiches and entrees for eat-in or take-out — which local chef Aaron Gottesman is still in the process of rolling out. The sandwiches came first, “because Philly is such a sandwich town,” Gottesman explains, and includes a yet-to-be-named gyro-type sandwich as well as a lamb burger and pulled lamb (Gottesman’s personal favorite) with such chef-driven accompaniments as smoked feta, rosemary honey mustard and piri piri, respectively. Heartier offerings include shepherd’s pie-like lamb stew, pot pie and “Korean-marinated” kebabs.
You might think someone with Gottesman’s credentials — he worked with Carroll at 10 Arts and then fellow Top Chef Kevin Sbraga at his eponymous restaurant — would feel hamstrung at never being able to cook with ham or any other non-lamb protein. Gottesman acknowledges the challenge while pointing out that “lamb is the most popular meat everywhere in the world except for the U.S. so there is a whole world of cuisine available for inspiration.” That whole world is most in evidence in a lamb sausage lineup that includes Mediterranean, Spanish chorizo, North African merguez and Greek loukaniko-style.
Market shoppers who try Gottesman’s Indian-inspired smoked lamb leg may notice a lighter spicing than they’ve experienced at Indian restaurants. Explains Gottesman: “In Indian and Thai cooking, curry is often used to cover up gamey lamb meat. But our lamb is so good, I want people to be able to taste it.”
Border Springs Farm Stand, Fifth Avenue between Avenues B and C, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays, 215-627-2100, ww.borderspringsfarm.com.
Carolyn Wyman is the Market’s news correspondent and operator of the Reading Terminal’s bi-weekly Taste of Philadelphia Food Tour.Posted on 06.19.13