Sheepdog trials are fascinating and this year’s North East Border Collie Association’s, held September 8 and 9 at Merck Forrest in Rupert, VT, was no exception. Border Collies are in the MENSA category when it comes to smarts—those we saw competing had to collect a group of three sheep at the top of a hill (where, in essence, the baton was passed from the “holding” dog to the competitor), and guide them through a series of gates, down the hill in a relatively straight line to the shepherd. The sheep should move ‘quietly,’ as running would take weight off them and farmers want their animals at their heaviest when they come to market. Then the dog had to make the sheep move as a group counterclockwise around the shepherd; guide them up hill to enter a chute; emerge from the chute and finally enter a pen.
The shepherd-to-dog communication is done only via whistle or voice. “Come by me” means go left; “away to me” tells the dog to move right and the whole thing is enough to make a somewhat dyslexic person like me nuts. We listened to a running commentary on the PA system by a veteran shepherd incorporating terms like the fetch, the gather and the drive.
Most dogs we watched had their performance down to a science. Then there was a young dog in his first major competition. He roared onto the field, was given the signal to start his fetch and couldn’t locate the waiting sheep (because the hill is very steep and the distance great enough so that the top is visible to the audience but not to the handlers or the competing dogs.) The bubble over that dog’s head read “I know there should be sheep here but where?” Realizing the dog was becoming frustrated, the shepherd intelligently retired him. In two years, he could be a champion.
The day included a demonstration by a local farrier (blacksmith) who worked on shoes to fit Daisy and Ellie, the Merck draft horses; games for kids; sheep shearing
demonstrations; an exhibition of a puppy learning the ropes and a mini-stampede by three ornery sheep who crashed out of a training ring but were successfully rounded up by a capable, senior dog. Think of it as the US Open for Border Collies, who got their name in the early 1900s when the sheep industry flourished in the border counties between England and Scotland.
The dogs are the brains behind these trials; the sheep are awaiting a less pleasant future. This lamb chop recipe is somewhat messy when done on the stove per the instructions below. My riff was to use much thicker chops and grill them outdoors. I made the sauce on the stove, pouring it over the cooked meat that was served garnished by more sage and the lemon wedges. No one refused seconds.
Seared Lamb Chops with Sage, Capers and Anchovies (New York Times)
Serves 2 (I served eight by cooking 16 chops, each about 1 1/2″ thick and doubling the rest of the ingredients)
6 baby lamb chops (1 1/4 pounds total)
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 anchovy fillets
3 tablespoons drained capers
15 sage leaves
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Lemon wedges, for serving.
1. Rinse the lamb chops and pat them dry. Season them with salt and pepper, and let them rest for 15 minutes.
2. Over medium-high heat, warm a skillet large enough to hold all the chops in one layer. Add the oil and when it shimmers, add the anchovies and capers. Cook stirring, until the anchovies break down, about 3 minutes.
3. Arrange the lamb chops in the skillet and fry, without moving them, until brown, about 3 minutes. Turn them over, and toss the sage leaves and pepper flakes into the pan. Cook until lamb reaches the desired doneness, about 2 minutes for medium-rare. (Note: you’ll cook a good bit longer on the grill with thicker chops.)
4. Arrange the chops on serving plates. Add the garlic to the pan and cook for 1 minute, then spoon the sauce over the lamb. Serve with the lemon wedges.
Even if you don’t like anchovies, give this a try. The end result has no anchovy taste, just a complex, rich flavor.