A Taste for Estonian Lamb in Europe Grows

25. oktoober 2010

Photo: ERR

Saaremaa sheepherders have seen a growing craving for Estonian lamb in Europe, to the point that demand has surpassed supply.

With around 15,000 sheep, the island of Saaremaa has one of the densest populations in the country. The whole of Estonia has 80,000 sheep, ETV reported.

Sheepherders have a long tradition in Estonia, although the occupation fell dormant for a number of years.

“Raising sheep is relatively easy. Sheep grow by themselves like a man’s beard. But when we reach the question, where to sell, then it gets complicated,” said sheepherder Aivar Kallas.

Indeed, there are few local markets with fresh lamb. It is not a daily food for most Estonians. For that reason, the largest producers have turned to the European market. Demand in Europe is so large that 40 percent of orders cannot be satisfied.

“When our German agent contacts us, then he wants 3,000 to 4,000 lambs,” said CEO of Saaremaa Eco-village, Koit Kull.

Demand for lamb comes largely from the Muslim communities in Europe.

Kaido Eigo, whose herd is a few hundred strong, has found a niche market with Finnish Muslims. But it is not actually his priority to produce meat. Rather, he makes a living off the national subsidies for maintaining the landscape.

“We’re not classical farmers. We are more landscape guardians and that’s how we feed ourselves,” said Eigo.

Major sheepherder Koit Kull said that the role of Saaremaa’s free-range sheep to keep the grass from overrunning pastures raises the value of the island’s sheep as an export.

However, due to globalization, demand and prices, even local Saaremaa restaurants buy their lamb from abroad, despite the homegrown supply.

“I need about 40 sheep this week to satisfy the needs of my kitchen. But the locals don’t have that capability. The sheep comes from New Zealand,” said Toomas Leedu, the head chef at GO Spa hotel.