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Testing US and Chinese tastebuds for new lamb lines

Thursday 6th of August 2015

Chinese and American consumers are about to have their palates tested on Australian sheepmeat with a view to identifying taste preferences and creating new export opportunities. The Meat Standard Australia eating trials will be conducted as part of a research project run by the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC) exploring the international market opportunities for new ‘yearling sheepmeat’ cuts.

Project leader Professor David Pethick, Murdoch University, said the upcoming MSA sensory tasting was designed to test how consumers perceive the distinctions between lamb and yearling sheepmeat so that Australian producers can maximise value from young sheep currently downgraded for age due to cutting the first permanent teeth. “As it stands two and four teeth sheep are currently downgraded in the Australian market to either hogget or even
mutton, and are not able to achieve premiums near those for lamb,” Prof. Pethick said.

“The cuts-based MSA grading system will aim to deliver more market options for sheepmeat, particularly yearling Merinos and lambs over 25kg in order to achieve the best alignment of our sheepmeat products with consumer demands in these critical export markets. “The premium lamb product will always be the prime focus for our export markets, but we do believe there are potential market opportunities for older animals, as they can provide a very good eating experience regardless of breed.”

The project is using the Meat & Livestock Industry Resource Flocks at the University of New England, Armidale and Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia, Katanning. These flocks produce around 2000 lambs annually, some of which are slaughtered as lambs and others kept for
another 9 to 12 months. All progeny have full pedigree data and extensive information on meat yield and measurements linked to eating quality.

“The first lot of lambs and yearling Merinos have been slaughtered and processed for collection of cuts at the WAMMCO International plant at Katanning, WA, and Thomas Foods International are processing the second batch in Tamworth, NSW, this September,” Prof. Pethick said. The consumer tests will use short loins, topsides and forequarters, with all cuts aged for 10 days then boxed and frozen for export. The cuts used will be of good quality and consistency, with a cooking style tailored to specific consumer groups.

“In all countries the meat will be grilled, however we will also be using a hotpot cooking method, which is more common in China than grilling,” Prof. Pethick said. “This involves thinly slicing the meat and passing it through a broth to cook it. For the trials we will use a relatively benign broth – not too spicy – as we want the taste of the meat to come through.”

The tasting panels will be assembled by overseas research partners and will include widespread tasting preferences and demographics. The data will provide information on the differences or otherwise of perceptions between Australian, USA and Chinese consumers, on lamb versus yearling product, on tough and tender cuts, on new cooking methods, all combined with data on the willingness to pay for different quality thresholds. The eating trials will be conducted from October onwards, after which industry should receive a clearer picture of the potential of the international markets for older sheepmeat.

Media contact: Michael Thomson on 07 4927 0805 / 0408 819 666

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