Alpaca are best known for their cute looks and gossamer fine fleece, not their eco-friendly soft hooves and virtually fat-free flesh. But these latter traits have carved out a new market for the South American import: boutique meat.
Alpaca is the newest dish on the menus of a small number of restaurants, including the Hungry Duck in Berry.
In Berry chef David Campbell showcased the comical-looking fluff balls on a tasting menu earlier this year, in dishes such as tataki of sirloin, braised ribs, and Mongolian style cutlets.
During the opening weekend of the Crave Sydney International Food Festival, Campbell supported Ricardo Zarate from LA’s Mo-Chica restaurant who demonstrated Peruvian cuisine, including alpaca tiradito – a Peruvian-style carpaccio. Alpaca empanadas were served in the morning tea break.
For the tiradito, Zarate seasoned alpaca loin with garlic paste and salt and pepper, rolled it into a cylinder, wrapped it in plastic wrap and left it to freeze. Later it was sliced into thin slithers and drizzled with an amarillo (yellow chilli) and parmesan sauce. Shared plates were served to the audience. The meat was light pink, and tasted a little like veal.
Campbell said the produce was so new to local chefs that they were just learning how to use it.
“It’s interesting because it is 99 percent lean, which means if you make a mistake in cooking it there’s no real give because there is no fat to save you,” Campbell said.
“So if you over-cook it it’s going to be dry and horrible and nasty, so preparing it this way [tiradito] is fantastic because we’re keeping it rare so there is no problem at all in keeping it so tender.”
While it’s not unusual for alpaca to be bred for consumption in South America – where the Incas considered alpaca their most valuable treasure because of its fleece – it’s a first for NSW.
“It’s a sustainable eco-friendly initiative,” Campbell said. “Alpacas are one of the most sustainable animals – they’ve got soft hooves so they don’t put holes in your pasture like cows and sheep do, they’re very light, you don’t have to feed them grain to get them to this consumption point, so they’re really not drawing off the environment the way that cattle and sheep do.”
Breeder Ian Frith of Millpaca farm told The Food Sage that the joint venture is only supplying selected restaurants, so the meat is not available to the general public through retail outlets.
“But following Crave we have been inundated with enquiries,” he said.