Disclosure: I was invited on a complimentary tour of Hillingdon Ranch via the American Lamb Board and the Texas A&M Argilife Extension for media and culinary industry professionals. All thoughts and opinions below are my own. Also, this recipe for Grilled Lamb Meatballs contains Amazon affiliate links. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.
Today I’m sharing about my trip out to the Texas hill country to visit Hillingdon Ranch! Check out the fun, plus a flavorful lamb recipe for Grilled Lamb Meatballs!
I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the tireless farmers and ranchers who produce the food that feeds our communities. That is why I am so thankful that I had the opportunity back at the end of April to be invited to visit Hillingdon Ranch, compliments of the American Lamb Board and the Texas A&M Argilife Extension.
Even though I have spent a lot of time throughout my life on various farms and ranches, I am still grateful for every opportunity I get to take a trip and visit one. These men and women are some of the most hard-working people I know and they are so passionate about the work they do. Every experience humbles me and makes me truly appreciate where my food comes from.
I’m happy to report that the family at Hillingdon Ranch is no exception! The Giles family, raising 5th generation lamb ranchers, hosted us with open arms and shared their family’s ranch, deep in the heart of the Texas hill country.
Hillingdon Ranch was originally established in 1885 and consists of more than 13,000 acres in Comfort, Texas. The Giles family raises a variety of livestock on their ranch, including cattle, sheep and goats; all of which range freely on the family’s land.
All the livestock on Hillingdon Ranch are directly related to the original cows, sheep and goats brought to the ranch in 1885. This means that the animals are well suited for the often hot and dry central Texas landscape, which consists of limestone, rolling hills and native shrubs and weeds.
Under this “range management” system, the livestock stays healthy and happy, only being grain feed if there is not enough greenery or if the livestock needs to be moved to different pastures due to predators. Not only is this free-range ranch management system best for the animals and land, it allows the ranch to operate with minimal employees.
In addition to sharing a bit about the ranch’s history and ranching style, the Giles family took us on a tour of their picturesque property, including the barns, where they sheer their sheep. The sheep are sheered once a year and the wool is baled and sold. The size (diameter) of the fiber determines how the wool is used. Finer wool means a softer feel and higher quality. This wool is used for clothes worn in direct contact with the skin. Where as wool that is thicker, is often used for coats, blankets, furniture, etc.
Interestingly, wool socks are best for year-round use, not just winter, especially if your feet tend to sweat. This is because the wool absorbs moisture keeping your feet cool and dry. Similarly, you can find thin wool shirts that will also keep you cool and dry in the hot summer months.
After touring the ranch, the Giles family graciously provided us with the most amazing “farm to table” lunch, featuring these Grilled Lamb Meatballs (recipe below), roasted lamb shanks, lamb kebabs, assorted fruit and vegetables, and wine from Newsome Vineyards.
The meatballs were actually prepared two ways, one batch using lamb and one using mutton. We were asked to taste both styles of meatballs (not knowing which one was what) and vote which was our favorite. Mutton, which is meat from an older sheep (at least over one year), is often known for being more tough. However, I thought in the case of the meatballs, both versions, tasted great!
Unfortunately lamb and mutton is not something I grew up eating. I think this was due to the fact that it can be expensive, as well as my Mom not being a confident enough cook to venture into trying something new. In fact, the first time I ever recall eating any sheep, was when I first traveled abroad as a teenager and ate haggis (sheep’s offal) for breakfast in Scotland. To say it wasn’t my favorite, would be an understatement! LOL!
However, over the years as I have developed my taste buds and moved through my culinary career, I have looked to trying new things and learning new culinary techniques. I am slowing incorporating more lamb and sheep products into our lifestyle, to not only add more variety but because lamb is an excellent source of vitamin B12, iron and zinc.
If you feel inspired to add more lamb to your regular dinner menu, then in addition to today’s Grilled Lamb Meatball recipe, you should check out my go to favorite Spaghetti and Meatballs Recipe, which features not only ground lamb but pork sausage and ground beef, or this recipe for Grilled Lamb Shoulder Chops with Mint Chimichurri. I’ll also be sharing another lamb recipe soon, that I hope you will try, so stay tuned!
Helpful Tips and Information:
How to grill meatballs:
You can make these Grilled Lamb Meatballs by simply putting them individually on the grill. However, since they are smaller than say, burgers, this will be a time consuming and tedious process. I recommend using a meatball grill basket or threading these lamb meatballs on skewers.
Grilled Lamb Meatballs:
recipe provided by Hill Country Sheep & Goat Organization
recipe provided by Hill Country Sheep & Goat Organization
I am so grateful to have had this opportunity to visit Hillingdon Ranch and to not only learn more about the sheep industry, but to be reminded of where our food comes from and to be even more appreciative of the hard-working people who feed us. While a lot of grocery stores import lamb products from Australia, I encourage you to shop local, and purchase American raised lamb. For more information about Hillingdon Ranch, click here, and for more information, including recipes, cooking tips and facts about lamb ranching, visit the American Lamb Board.