Monday, February 1, 2010

Leg of Lamb and Transhumance, the ancient festival in Provence of the running of the sheep



When we were in Provence, lamb or l’agneau du Pays seemed to be the plat du jour at almost every bistro at least once a week. If your family isn’t lamb friendly, please don’t click away because I don’t want you to miss a festival in Provence that you’ve probably never seen – the ancient custom of running of the sheep. There are pictures and a link to a video, so just jump to paragraph four and I’ll join you later.

One of the places we enjoyed the local lamb happened to be one of Patricia Well’s favorite bistros, Le Bistrot du Paradou, a short fifteen minute drive from Saint-Remy. While we were waiting for our lunch to arrive, we watched the man at the next table return his lamb to the waiter and request that it be rose, or medium-rare. Meakin caught the waiter’s eye and ask that ours be rose as well. We enjoy leg of lamb and will sometimes serve it at dinner parties. I say “sometimes” because we like our lamb medium rare to rare and not everyone does. So if we’re having guests who like it well done or even medium well, we forget the lamb, just as we would forget a fillet of beef, and serve something else. 




This picture is from one of those dinner parties. I served it with one of my favorite salads, asparagus with hearts of palm, grape tomatoes, and red onion slivers, which you would not find in Provence. If the picture looks familiar, that’s because you’ve seen the asparagus salad in a post last August. The recipe for the leg of lamb is below, but first I want to tell you about a festival held in Provence in late spring that celebrates the migrating of the sheep to the hills to escape the summer heat.

Sheep are raised all through Provence and the migration is an ancient tradition in the area. In order to get them to the mountains, the sheep are herded through the winding streets of the villages. It’s celebrated with a festival known as the Fete de Transhumance, or the running of the sheep. In Saint-Remy Transhumance draws huge crowds of tourists on busses, jet-setters and locals, as you can see in this video from Monty and Marsha. They did a great job of videoing the festival, so be sure to click over and watch. You’ll feel like you’re right there, standing on the edge of the sidewalk, as hundreds of sheep run through the streets. 

Our stay ended two weeks before Transhumance in Saint-Remy, but fortunately we were able to find one being held earlier in Senas.  We hopped in our car and headed east out of Saint-Remy on the D99, a lovely plane tree lined highway in search of Senas.



Senas is a very small farming community, not the tourist town Saint-Remy is and you are unlikely to find it in travel guides. There won’t be any tour busses at this Transhumance and there won’t be any English spoken here. We will be experiencing the festival in rural France with the locals. We arrived early and strolled around the village waiting for the festival to begin and watched children riding horses in the streets, and a farrier making horse shoes. A few people came out of the boulangerie carrying baguettes, but there wasn’t a lot of activity for a Saturday morning. Around eleven we stopped at small café and Meakin ordered une petite biere, a small beer, for both of us. When the waitress replied, “Pression?” we shrugged our shoulders, not knowing what she meant. This is where charades comes in handy. She took her hand and pulled down and repeated pression. Ah, she meant draft beer. “Oui Madame, je voudrais pression,” Meakin said.


The mayor gave a speech before the festival. We caught only a few words that we recognized now and then, but we politely smiled and applauded when others around us did. Afterwards we stood with the other onlookers on the edge of the sidewalk of the narrow winding street waiting and anticipating the arrival of the sheep. Finally someone in the crowd yelled, “Something, something, something les moutons,” in rapid French that we assumed was “here come the sheep.” Seemingly out of nowhere, a large herd of sheep and a few brown long horn goats began racing through the streets. These pictures are from our trip a couple of years ago.







Notice below that only one shepherd and his dog control the entire flock. A young curious lamb stopped briefly near us and tried to eat a flower from an urn, but he was quickly corralled by the dog and rejoined the pack. No misbehaving allowed here.




We never knew who the people in the carriages were. To experience watching this ancient tradition with the locals in a tiny village in Provence was a fantastic experience and one we certainly won’t forget. 




Now, back to the leg of lamb. My favorite recipe for leg of lamb is from Patricia Well’s Bistro Cooking. The lamb is roasted on an oven rack set above thinly sliced potatoes, onions and tomatoes. The lamb’s juices drip on the vegetables, flavoring them while they cook.

Patricia Wells uses a bone-in leg, but we used a boneless one. The butcher will do all of the boning work for you if you ask. I added rosemary because it goes so well with lamb and I also have it growing in my herb garden. Instead of chopping the garlic as the recipe calls for, I sliced it into very thin slivers. I’ve noticed that Mario Batali thinly slices his garlic and I’ve found it works well. 

If you like your lamb as rare as we do, I suggest that you slice the potatoes as thinly as possible or they tend to not be done when the lamb is. This has happened to me, so now I slice the potatoes with my mandoline, but a sharp knife will do the trick. If your oven has a built-in thermometer, be sure to use it so you don’t have to constantly check the lamb for doneness.  







Roasted Leg of Lamb with Rosemary
Adapted from Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells – serves 8 to 10

1 boneless leg of lamb, about 6 to 7 pounds
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced into very thin slivers
2 pounds of baking potatoes, peeled and very thinly sliced
5 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T chopped fresh thyme
2/3 cup dry white wine
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

Preheat the oven to 400F. Arrange the vegetables as follows: first a layer of the potatoes, then the onions, followed by the tomatoes. Season each layer with one third of the garlic and thyme plus some salt and pepper. Pour the wine over the vegetables, followed by the olive oil.

Trim the leg of lamb if it’s fatty. Season liberally with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the fresh chopped rosemary. Place a rack over the vegetables to hold the lamb. Roast, uncovered, for about an hour and fifteen minutes, turning the lamb every 15 minutes and basting it with some of the liquid underneath.  For rare to medium rare, remove the lamb from the oven when it reaches 125 degrees for rare and 130 for medium rare. Tent the lamb with foil and let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes to rest. Slice and serve alongside the vegetables.


This post is linked to Oh the Places I've Been hosted by the Tablescaper. Have a nice weekend everyone.





47 comments:

  1. Sam, I thoroughly enjoyed this posting. Love lamb, and yours looks perfect. Enjoyed your photos and the link to the video of the running of the lambs. What fun and excitement. Being in these situations while traveling makes it all the more special. Sorry, I can't help with the font problem. I am just glad I have no problems for a change.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Love the little sheepy's crossing the road!

    ReplyDelete
  3. oh I am enjoying your Provence posts so much we stayed in Saint Remy i love this area

    ReplyDelete
  4. I love my lamb medium rare Sam but would certainly thoroughly enjoy it any way. Thanks for sharing this interesting tradition with us. It would be something to see!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  5. your lamb looks so mouth wateringly good...I love the picture when the sheep are first arriving - it feels so exciting...

    ReplyDelete
  6. Bonjour Sam,
    I need to plan to go one year, it sounds so exciting. THanks for this lamb recipes, lamb is one of our favorite dishes.
    Not much help for the font problem, but you can adjust it from the edit panel just next to the font style - as you can see I'm not much of a computer techie!
    Have a great week mon amie!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I will click as soon as I write.. we are going back to Provence..you make me want to see St-Rémy!! I will Google..

    I looked for your Provence cookbook online yesterday..Have you looked recently? Ohlala!!
    Thank you..a delightful post!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I haven't had lamb in years! I espeically like the veggie side dish you have there.
    The running of the sheep looks a lot more peaceful than a bull run! haha

    ReplyDelete
  9. Yummm! We just recently had a birthday celebration with leg of lamb (marinated in garlic, lemon juice, and rosemary). We like it rare to medium rare. We had with it roasted asparagus and garlic mashed potatoes, but I love your idea for the thin sliced potatoes done in the dripping.

    A wonderful post about the running of the sheep! We saw towns in the Cotswolds that were built with very narrow passageways between buildings so that sheep could be herded down these passages and counted one by one as they emerged.

    ReplyDelete
  10. My husband would be thrilled if I made this lamb for him. I just adore all of your photos.

    ReplyDelete
  11. In the town where I grew up, this was a daily occurrence when the shepherds brought their sheep in for the night. Thx for the memory.....

    As for the lamb,,,,you meals is making me think about leg of lamb in the middle of the week.......normally I keep it for Sundays!!

    ReplyDelete
  12. I love the running of the sheep. I can imagine how it would be to witness that! I love leg of lamb with thin slivers of garlic. It looks like it was cooked perfectly.

    Not sure why your font is changing on you. When you are writing your post do you see the drop down box to change the font? Then there is another box with a "T" on it. I wonder if those will help. I'm definitely not a computer techie, sorry.

    ReplyDelete
  13. What a wonderful post, Sam. I've seen the running of the bulls but have never heard of this festival. Thanks for sharing your photos with us. The lamb, which by the way, is my favorite meat when properly cooked, sounds incredible. I've book marked the recipe and will try it very soon.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I visited Provence for the first time in my life in 1976, during the sheep transhumance .. it was different from anything I had seen in the past, man and nature vingtogether in peace ..... do you think it will still last long?

    ReplyDelete
  15. Sam, thanks for these photos and the link to the video. I love this kind of festival--it's so great to be able to be there!

    The lamb looks amazing. We love it here--it's our favorite red meat.

    Thanks for the petit tour!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Wonderful! Thanks for sharing.

    I love lamb. That recipe sounds delicious!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

    ReplyDelete
  17. Your plates of food always look inviting, and cause a little drooling action...I kind of feel sorry for the little guys, as they are invited to dinner, but are so unaware...oh well start the fire and I will chop the rosemary!

    ReplyDelete
  18. Great post Sam. It makes me want to go to Provence even more than before. We are planning a trip for next summer. Your lamb looks delectable. Love your pictures; especially the plane trees and road.

    ReplyDelete
  19. So very intresting. Never even heard of the running with the sheep thing-wow.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Fantastic to be able to witness a tradition of a place....just gives you that extra bit of connection....

    ReplyDelete
  21. Just discovered your blog after Jamie at Lifes a Feast mentioned it whilst we were skyping today. I love Provence and this is beautiful.

    ReplyDelete
  22. wow what a sight! The lamb dish looks really good!

    ReplyDelete
  23. I do enjoy lamb, Sam and your recipe sounds, and looks, divine! Roasted lamb is so aromatic.

    I would feel sorry to see the little lambs, however, and then sit down to dinner of one them. If I lived on a farm I'm sure I would be vegetarian. That was an interesting sight you saw in Provence.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I bet this is such a fun thing to experience. My kids would love it too!

    Your lamb recipe looks wonderful, I bet the rosemary added such fantastic flavor!

    ReplyDelete
  25. Such a fun festival, thanks for telling us about it! The lamb looks terrific, perfect with rosemary!

    ReplyDelete
  26. I am always looking for new lamb recipes and I think I can even smell this one cooking! Thanks, Sam! AND a belated little thank you for the Beef Daube recipe too.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Oh Sam, what a gorgeous post. The Italian side of my family loves lamb (no surprise there) and do it with olive oil, garlic and rosemary. I love the tomatoes in yours and will try it. I do lamb shanks and chops a lot during the winter. The leg of lamb is always medium rare at our home - and I do have to provide "alternatives" for the silly people who do not know what they are missing!

    ReplyDelete
  28. Mary had a little lamb? What a lightweight! This guy has an entire herd ;)

    Much safer than the running of the bulls and way less drunks.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Hi Sam, although I am not a lamb fan, the one that you feature looks delicious and I absolutely love the pictures :-)

    ReplyDelete
  30. Hi Sam -

    Your font could change if you are cutting and pasting. Anyway, before you post, highlight all the text and go to the font box and chose the font type and then the size, whcih would make it uniform.

    ReplyDelete
  31. I think these kinds of traditions are amazing. Another reason for me to visit Provence. I try to imagine what it would be like if spotted a herd of sheep trotting through my quiet suburban street!

    ReplyDelete
  32. Sam,
    Beautiful plate. I'd come for dinner any time! Beef Daube looks amazing as well.
    Steve
    http://www.myfavoriteflavours.com

    ReplyDelete
  33. Great post! Loved all the pics. And how good does that dinner look?!?!?!

    ReplyDelete
  34. Great pictures! What an experience!

    ReplyDelete
  35. Wow... so interesting to see all those lambs on the street!

    Your lamb dish must be very delicious :)

    ReplyDelete
  36. What a lovely story about the running of the sheep. I can't wait to read more.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Sam, what a terrific post about Provence. I feel that I am with you with all the fabulous photographs. And this lamb recipes is awesome, too. I truly love lamb, fixed just about any way; but roasted leg of lamb is my all time favorite.

    I can't wait to read your other beautiful creative post...

    ReplyDelete
  38. I'm enjoying my virtual visit to Provence. this dish looks and sounds so wonderful. I ber you're enjoying your memories along with these delicious meals.

    ReplyDelete
  39. What a lovely post (and blog)! I feel like I was there too due to your beautiful, vivid photos.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Hello Sam!

    Brussels calling!

    Your post about the Provence is one lovely one! I so love your stories & the pictures behind them. Your lamb dish sings to me!! I can't wait until it is spring for the best spring lamb in Belgium!

    MMMMMM,...

    ReplyDelete
  41. We love lamb and have it at least once a week. But I've never made leg of lamb...a must try!

    On a side note: I used to herd with my dogs and worked them with sheep at least once a week. It was fun for me but my dogs loved it!

    ReplyDelete
  42. Oh my goodness! What a surprise it must have been to see that flock of sheep run out!

    ReplyDelete
  43. Oh, how I enjoyed this post! I'm headed outside right now to tell my flock of woolies how good they have it with me! -smile-

    ReplyDelete
  44. Oh my goodness, what a delightful festival. I know about the running of the bull but this is the first time I'm hearing about the running of the sheep. It must be fun experience for you. I'd love to experience it for myself someday.

    ReplyDelete
  45. What a fun post! Thanks for taking us along. We are fans of leg of lamb. I'm passing the recipe on to the chef. '-) Thanks ~ Sarah

    ReplyDelete
  46. This is so cool!I've never heard of the running of the sheep!

    Wonderful to have you at "Oh, the PLACES I've been!"

    - The Tablescaper

    ReplyDelete
  47. I've never heard of the running of the sheep either but I loved seeing the photos! How fun!

    ReplyDelete

I enjoy reading each and every comment. If you leave a comment with a question or that requires an answer, please leave an address or way for me to get in touch with you. I appreciate your taking the time to visit my blog and I hope you'll return again soon.
Sam