Champion Kiwi lamb could be world's healthiest and tastiest
A bid to produce the world's healthiest red meat is proving a hit for a group of South Island high country farmers.
Their unique Te Mana lamb was launched onto the market this winter, to be served up at top restaurants both here and in Hong Kong.
Life on the farm's been a lot tougher in recent years for the country's sheep, as the growth of dairying pushes them higher into the hills.
Geneticist Aimee Charteris has spent the past decade on a project to create a new breed of sheep.
"[There's] a real need to rethink about what a ewe needs to be functioning incredibly well in that type of environment," she told Newshub.
Five-hundred genetic lines were tested, with the aim of finding a way to put fat back on the animals.
The whole project is about producing sheep better able to survive and thrive in the hill and high country.
Adding more fat also improves the flavour, something farmers say has been lost in the drive for leaner meat.
"We've been able to develop a sheep that's high in omega-3 polyunsaturated fats and also really high in intramuscular fat," Stag Valley farmer Simon Saunders said.
The lambs are finished on chicory pastures, a leafy herb that helps them grow fast. These factors combine to produce Te Mana lamb, marketed by the Alliance Group as the world's tastiest and healthiest.
The premium-priced lamb means better returns for farmers.
It was launched by Prime Minister Bill English recently in Hong Kong and is also on the menu of top-end restaurants here.
Queenstown chef Will Eaglefield says diners shouldn't be concerned about the intramuscular fats running through the meat.
"People are already on board with that from wagyu beef. And I think the public are quite aware now that marbling is a good thing."
He says that produces a juicier cut with more flavour, plus a burst of omega fats.
The successful launch has proven there's an appetite for the new Kiwi lamb, with more breeders and farmers coming on board this season.