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Is Alpaca meat the next big thing? A Hot Dish taste test

Broiled Alpaca leg steaks from La Pacos in Minnesota
Broiled Alpaca leg steaks from La Pacos in Minnesota
Photo by Kelly Dwyer

On Wednesday, the Hot Dish introduced you to the Welcks, a Princeton couple who recently launched a business selling alpaca meat. We promised to deliver a review of the products available from La Pacos, and answer the question: Will anybody actually want to eat this stuff?

Let's begin with the dried meat products:
Jerky and Meat Sticks

Alpaca Polish sausage
Alpaca Polish sausage
Photo by Kelly Dwyer

The Hot Dish was unable to sample the bratwurst in time for this post (a human can only eat so much meat!), but we were able to sample the Polish sausage, pictured above. We broiled these sausages, which was likely a mistake. The filling is nicely and densely packed, and the casing provides a crisp snap to each bite. There are very few white chunks of gristly material.  This is when the realization begins to dawn: Alpaca meat is very similar to venison.

Next page: Alpaca burgers and steaks--and where to get them
 
Alpaca steaks

Broiled Alpaca leg steaks from La Pacos in Minnesota
Broiled Alpaca leg steaks from La Pacos in Minnesota
Photo by Kelly Dwyer

The Hot Dish was intent on tasting alpaca in its purest form.  We broiled the alpaca leg steaks we received without marinading or seasoning of any kind. The initial bite evoked a slight nose-crinkling. In its unadulterated form, alpaca does have a slight gamy flavor that once again hews closely to tvenison. There is no mistaking these steaks for a choice cut of beef.  With alpaca steaks, you won't find the ecstasy-inspiring sensation of perfectly grilled filet mignon hitting your tongue.

However, there is an easily envisionable use for the steak: sandwiches, tacos, and fajitas. We had some of the steaks left over after our official sampling, so we decided to experiment a little. We sliced the steaks thin and made an alpaca Philly cheesesteak and a blue cheese and avocado steak sandwich. When sliced thin, the steak is quite similar to the cuts of bison in the hash served at Bryant-Lake Bowl. The advantage of using alpaca in a cheesesteak was the leanness of the meat. Even after melting on copious amounts of cheese, the sandwich is not a dripping, oily mess. 

As for the avocado, suffice it to say that these two ingredients go together like Gordon Ramsay and yelling. Adding avocado to the steak (or burger) adds more fat, but a cleaner-tasting fat than beef tallow. We also have every intention of getting more alpaca steak to prepare like carne asada or fajita-style.

Ground Alpaca

Broiled alpaca burger
Broiled alpaca burger
Photo by Kelly Dwyer

This product is definitely the flagship of the La Pacos brand. The burgers we broiled with the ground alpaca were very well received by our testers. We added nothing to these burgers, simply forming each pound into four patties that retained their shape far better than those made of beef. The frustrating experience of watching a perfectly formed patty distort as the middle swells with a pocket of grease and water does not occur with ground alpaca. The meat is lean, with the gamy flavor of the steaks much less noticeable here and even simpler to counter, if one is so inclined.

One of our testers reported, only half-jokingly, "I don't know if I can go back to eating cow after this."

"Why are you looking at me like that? And why are you holding a fork?"
"Why are you looking at me like that? And why are you holding a fork?"
Photo by Kelly Dwyer

In summation, the alpaca is worth a recommendation to foodies looking to expand their repertoire or flavor experiences. Minnesota may be one of the best places in the country to launch an alpaca meat business, due to the high percentage of the population that eats venison on a semi-regular basis. Those people who don blaze orange every fall and wait for hours in trees will find alpaca to be a suitable substitute for those years when they arrived home without bloodstains in their truck beds.

Alpaca is also a meat source to be considered by ecologically minded carnivores. "They don't have hooves, but toenails instead. They don't damage grazing land as much," Roger Welck says. "They're also more efficient eaters than cattle. Alpaca eat about 25 percent less per pound than cows."

Look for La Pacos alpaca meat products this summer at the Mill City Farmers Market and the Farmers Market on Lyndale or visit their website to place an order.


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