Monday, June 17, 2019
Diane Peavey--A Lifetime of Lamb Chops and Marriage, Too
Diane Josephy Peavey’s book, “Bitterbrush Country: Living on the Edge of the Land,” describes the life of a sheep rancher.
Wednesday, October 5, 2016


Americans eat 50 billion hamburgers a year, with McDonald’s alone selling 75 hamburgers per second.

The average American eats just 1 pound of lamb per year, compared with 68 pounds of beef and chicken.

Diane Josephy Peavey has been on a mission to change that ever since she married into the Flat Top Sheep Ranch family.

She’s changing the course of dining in the Sun Valley area, thanks in part to the Trailing of the Sheep Festival she and her husband John Peavey started 20 years ago. And she’s working at the national level  as part of the American Lamb Board.

“We need to get people to eat more lamb and, if I bring anything to the ranch, it’s a love of lamb and cooking lamb,” said Peavey, whose Trailing festival runs through Sunday, Oct. 9. “I grew up with lamb and want everyone else to have the same experience as I.”

Indeed, Peavey’s mother regularly served her family lamb roast for Sunday dinner and special occasions when Diane was growing up. When Peavey went to college, she and her lamb loving friend would sit at different tables when lamb was served, knowing that meant there’d be more lamb left over on the platters for each of them.

When she worked in Washington, D.C., Peavey served small roasts and lamb chops to friends.

“People are uncomfortable cooking it, which is a mystery to me because it seems so simple,” said Peavey

Peavey was appointed to the 13-member Lamb Board by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in 2013. She was elected vice chair in 2015 and re-elected this year.

The board was organized in 2003 to promote lamb and wool two years after the industry bottomed out. Freezers had been full, causing lamb prices to drop from 80 cents a pound to 50 cents a pound in one month.

Lamb consumption in the United States did increase 6 percent last year, but lamb still makes up less than 1 percent of the protein Americans get.

"That’s unfortunate," Peavey said, "because lamb’s health benefits outweigh that of many other protein sources."

The fat in most cuts is monounsaturated—the same kind of healthy fat found in olive oil. And three ounces of lamb provides five times the essential omega-3 fatty acids and alpha linoleic acid as three ounces of beef.

“People say that it’s expensive. But compared to fish not so much,” she added.

"There’s cause for optimism," she said. "Mexicans, Asians and Middle Eastern peoples consume lamb regularly. In fact, Peavey recently toured a packing plant in Detroit where she watched a Middle Eastern family pick out a carcass hanging from the ceiling, sling it over their shoulders and haul it to the car."

“Lamb is big with Millennials, too,” said Peavey. “They’re real foodies. They like to try foods that are different, exciting, adventurous. They love lamb, and chefs are taking notice.”

It wasn’t too long ago that John Peavey threw a fit when he went into Wood River Valley restaurants looking for lamb that wasn’t on the menu. To counter that, Diane Peavey picked up lamb that had been butchered in Buhl and rush samples back to valley restaurants, the air conditioning in her car turned up so high she had to wear her ski jacket on 90-degree days.

She was overjoyed when Chris Kastner said, “Wait, I’ll take everything you’ve got.”

Today lamb is readily available—from the lamb burger at Scott Mason’s Town Square Tavern to the Lava Lake Lamb Stew at Perry’s to the lamb meatballs at Iconoclast Books Café. One of the first things John Murcko did when he became executive chef for Sun Valley Resort was insist that lamb be available in Sun Valley’s upscale restaurants.

“The Trailing of the Sheep Festival has definitely increased the visibility of lamb in local restaurants. Not only do we have the Lamb tastings and cooking classes but many chefs produce special dishes over the weekend,” said Peavey.

Ranchers have gotten better at providing restaurants with uniform cuts. More are lambing twice a year to provide availability year round. And they’re striving for consistency in flavor, as well.

“There was a time when a ram sale was a beauty contest. Ranchers would point and say, ‘That one looks good,’ without knowing what was inside,” Peavey said. “Now, ranchers are asking what the offspring looks like, what the rib eye looks like. They’re finding out when it was born, how fast it grew, how it was raised, whether it was grass-fed or grain-fed. It makes a big difference in making sure the American consumer always has a tasty product.”

The Peaveys are on speed dial for TV chefs who need lamb experts. Among those who have come to their ranch: Adam Perry Lang, who has Daisy May’s BBQ USA rib shack in New York City and has partnered with British chef Jamie Oliver and Mario Batali’s Las Vegas steakhouse CarneVino.

"A butterflied leg of lamb makes a superb grill food," Peavey said.

Peavey also touts a Flat Top roast recipe, in which John Peavey’s mother Mary Brooks massaged a marinade of olive oil, lemon juice and rosemary or oregano into a roast, then slathered it with a honey-mustard mixture. She then slow cooked it in the oven for five to six hours at 250 degrees.

Another favorite: Roast topped with onion soup mix, wrapped in aluminum foil and cooked at 250 degrees for five hours.

“When John asked me to marry him, I was overwhelmed—a lifetime of lamb chops—what could be better,” said Diane. “And, of course, I got John, too.”


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