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Canada’s Best:  Charlevoix Lamb

Charlevoix Lamb, IGP

The small racks of lamb, lightly brushed with mustard, lemon and thyme were well rested now, and sliced into their constituent chops to reveal eyes of meat cooked to a perfectly even state of rosy doneness.

A drizzle of fine olive oil, a sprinkle of fleur de sel, and they were ready for their big moment. Go on, try one.

One small chop, one bite: the meat pulls easily from the bone—supple, delicate and succulent beyond compare. The flavour is mildly grassy, with a hint of nuttiness and minerality. There is just enough sweet buttery fat in the cap to enrich the experience, but not so much as to overwhelm it. When was the last time you ate something that made you want to get up from the table, track down the farmers who raised it, shake them by the calloused hand and say, Thank you? Or in this case, Merci.

We were dining at an old friend’s rented summer house in Saint-Félicien, near Baie-Saint-Paul, on the north shore of the St. Lawrence on the beautiful, rolling hills of Charlevoix, Quebec. The lamb was local—le véritable agneau de Charlevoix. And it was as good as any lamb I had ever tasted anywhere. Better than anything I could remember from Washington State or Colorado. As fine as Welsh spring lamb and even the legendary stuff from Connemara, Ireland. Nearly as delicate as France’s pale, young and barely pink milk-fed lamb. And up there in flavour with the salt marsh lamb of Normandy or Picardy. On which note, just as Picardy’s lamb from the area around the Bay of the Somme has an appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) and Connemara Hill has protected geographical indication (PGI), Charlevoix’s lamb has its own legally protected classification of origin, indication géographique protégé (IGP). It signifies that the animal was born and weaned in Charlevoix, fed only local grain, raised in small flocks (500 or fewer animals per farmer), and slaughtered at a weight no greater than 40 kilos (live) and at no older than 190 days. But what it really means is, when you see it, buy the lot! —J.R.

📷 HeebyJ iStock/Getty

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