Justin Marx was starving when he checked into a small hotel in the remote countryside of New Zealand a couple of years ago. He phoned down to the tiny kitchen, hoping for a simple snack.
“They sent up a beautiful plate of cheese and charcuterie, but it was the olive oil that really blew me away,” said the CEO of Marx Foods. “It was a deep green and had a rich, almost grassy flavor.”
That delicious discovery was one of the reasons Marx recently returned to the verdant island nation to scout for the odd and exotic and the flat-out tasty. He makes many such scouting trips over the course of a year, to fill out the unique portfolio, but this time, he and his father, Frank, spent nearly two weeks visiting with farmers, shopping gourmet stores and health food markets in lands Down Under. They toured vast Merino lamb ranches by helicopter and between meetings with producers, they tasted and sipped and gathered potential products for their extensive lineup of foodstuff sold around the globe to discerning chefs and ambitious home cooks determined to work with unusual quality ingredients.
It was the quest to bring Merino lamb to the U.S. that was on the top of their list during a recent trip to New Zealand. They’ve forged a highly successful partnership with Silver Fern beef, importing top-flight, grass-fed beef and are looking to do the same with the organization's lamb.
“The farmers and ranchers in New Zealand are very progressive, with a long tradition of using best practices in every stage of the process,” Marx said. “They’re very proud.”
The care taken in raising the animals was evident at the dinner table.
“We were served a rump roast at a high-end restaurant called Pier 24, a huge platter of meat with lots of root vegetables and it was absolutely delicious,” Marx recalled. “The meat has a finer grain, so it has a silky texture. The flavor’s round and complex, almost earthy. It’s raised in the Highlands, eating native grass and herbs. You can taste the terrior.”
Done deal, the processed lamb will begin arriving stateside soon, along with about a dozen new products Marx discovered during this fruitful scouting trip: sea vegetables that look like spaghetti and have an al dente bite, pickled green walnuts, freeze-dried fruit that tastes fresh, soda syrups and smoked olives. (Sounds awesome!)
“There are so many great artisan food producers in New Zealand. We’ve only begun to tap into the possibilities,” he said.
For more on this scouting trip, check out Justin’s blog.