“Eat more lamb!”
So saith the large sign painted on the side of a brick building on Sun Valley Road. It faces all westbound traffic, all skiers commuting from the resort to the mountain, and all normal citizens flocking to Highway 75 for their journeys south or north.
The sign continues to posit, in quotes though without attribution, “It’s delicious!”
The valley’s annual Trailing of the Sheep festival takes this painted advice to heart, presenting a veritable cornucopia of lamb-rich dining options at various times and locations throughout the five-day event.
As the ovine transhumance plods toward its seasonal conclusion, the itinerant sheep will pass a gauntlet of restaurants serving up lamb with a delectable assortment of sides and sauces.
“We are proud that the culinary part of the festival continues to grow in demand and popularity,” said Laura Musbach Drake, executive director of the Trailing of the Sheep Festival. “It’s a wonderful chance for our restaurants and chefs to showcase their talents with American lamb, and a thrill for us to provide the venues and opportunities to do so.”
Trailing of the Sheep is not for vegetarians or overly sheepish eaters, but the naturally omnivorous residents of and visitors to the valley will be in a state of gastronomical euphoria as local restauranteurs outdo themselves and each other with a staggering amount of lamb dishes—perhaps some with a side of fava beans and a nice Chianti
Herd the family together and hoof it to the Wood River Sustainability Center on River Street in Hailey for the first such event, the Farm to Table Dinner, featuring all-American lamb and locally sourced produce. This meal is the first official event of the festival, kicking proceedings off at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 9. The Sustainability Center will host the event again at the same time the following day.
Tickets are $90 and—as with all events covered in this article—can be procured online at trailingofthesheep.org. Considering the quantity and quality of food provided, that price tag is a bargain
For those with a penchant for food-prep, one of the cornerstone offerings of the Trailing of the Sheep lineup is the series of Cooking With Lamb events. Culinary classes are offered at 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, presented by various local chefs at a number of locations in Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley.
Preceding the Thursday classes is a cheese-making class presented by Chef Kendall Russell at 9 a.m. at Red Star, 618 S. Main St. in Hailey.
All seven of those classes require preregistration, which can be executed online.
Friday also boasts one of the festival's most popular events, For the Love of Lamb! Restaurants and chefs will take over downtown Ketchum where, for just $20, the hungry can sate their appetites. Countless lamb dishes will be available during For the Love of Lamb. Those looking for a bite to eat need look no further, although the festival does have still more to offer.
At 11 a.m. on Saturday will be the most aptly named event in the week’s lineup: Lamb Fest. During the free Folklife Fair in Hailey’s Roberta McKercher Park, those with empty stomachs can dive into lamb-based lunch options prepared by a plethora of local restaurants. A $10 entry price brings ticketholders full access to the luncheon offerings.
Saturday’s proceedings draw to a close with a true baacchanalian lamboree: the Sheep Jam soirée at Whiskey Jacques’ in Ketchum. The jam begins at 6 p.m. with cocktails, followed by a lamb dinner buffet—anyone who identifies as a glutton for mutton can run rampant at the buffet—and then live music by The Dusty 45s.
Tickets are $80 for dinner, drinks and the show, but $25 tickets are also available for those who just wish to attend the show, without the food and beverages beforehand.
Running before and then concurrently with the Sheep Jam is a dual-item Taste & Craft event at the Argyros and The Boho Lounge, which acts as a fundraiser for the festival.
Three companies ply the valley with lamb for the festival. Mountain States, Superior Farms and local sheep ranch Lava Lake Lamb all contribute to the festival and to various businesses around the valley.
Lava Lake is providing CK’s Real Food with about 130 pounds of lamb for the Folk Life Fair. Its stock is currently served at several local restaurants, including Rickshaw, Cellar Pub, Ketchum Grill and Town Square Tavern.
Drake estimated the total amount of meat trucked in for culinary offerings at roughly 2,600 pounds, or slightly more than one full-grown male saltwater crocodile.
That’s just the lamb provided by the festival organizers for their own events, and doesn’t include lamb that most restaurants are procuring on their own volition. The shear quantity of lamb is staggering.