Thursday, 4 June 2009

Pauillac Lamb - Agneau de Pauillac

Pauillac Lamb is a delicacy in Bordeaux and comes from sheep that traditionally grazed on the Médoc marshes and amongst the vines after the grape harvest. The Gironde forms the heart of the Agneau de Pauillac production area and since the 13th century, sheep had been moving down from the Pyrenean mountainsides to graze in the pastures there. Young animals not kept for renewing the herd were sold on the spot and eaten at Easter celebrations. These lambs were slaughtered mainly in Pauillac, the transit port, arriving by train or being brought by locals who rounded them up. According to the ‘Guide des agneaux des bergers d'Aquitaine’ (Guide to the lambs of Aquitaine shepherds), almost a 1000 lambs were being brought to Pauillac each year by 1827.

In the times of seasonal herd migration, the sheep breeders had an arrangement with the owners of wine growing châteaux, after the harvests, the sheep could come and graze among the vines. It was a two-way deal the châteaux were granted one or two lambs and by grazing, the sheep acted as a natural weed-remover and also fertilized the fields. Herds of sheep can still be found today in the Médoc, amongst the vines.

As the sheep were grazing in cultivated areas the lambs were kept penned and suckled only on their mother's milk before slaughter – giving them a delicate, light-coloured, tender meat with a distinctive nutty taste. This lamb is known as Agneau de Lait and has a long standing reputation - it was served to King Edward VII in 1903 at a dinner with President Loubet . The town of Pauillac holds a Lamb Festival with parades of ewes on its streets.

Originally Pauillac Lamb came from the Pyrenean breeds of Basco Bebearnaise sheep and either the Red or Black Headed Manech. Both the Basco Bearnaise and the Manech are very hardy, well adapted to high grazing lands and to extreme variations in temperature. They are good milkers and their milk is used in cheese making. Nowadays Pauillac Lamb also comes from hardy breeds of ewes: Lacaune, Tarasconnais and Blanche du Massif Central crossed with butcher quality rams of Bérichon du Cher, Charolais and Rouge de l'Ouest .

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