Alpaca: It's what's for dinner!?

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Photo by Kelly Dwyer
One Minnesota farm is touting alpaca burgers and steaks
Over the last decade, small herds of alpaca have sprung up across the country as the price of choice breeding stock skyrocketed. An award-winning animal would routinely fetch five- or even six-figure amounts on the market and, as a result, entrepreneurs nationwide invested in what seemed like a lucrative business.

Much like in its native Peru, alpaca fiber is prized in the U.S. for use in blankets and apparel. However, one Peruvian custom has not emigrated with the animals: alpaca as a food source.

One Minnesota couple is hoping to change all that.

 

A couple of years ago, Roger and Gina Welck, a former 14-year Frito-Lay employee and a surgical nurse, respectively, tired of the corporate rat race and city life. They relocated from the suburbs to a tidy farmstead near Princeton and embarked on a new life as alpaca ranchers.

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Photo by Kelly Dwyer
Twisted Suri Alpaca Ranch
The Welcks invested greatly in this new business, spurred by the market's high prices. But they watched as the nation's economy--and by extension, the alpaca market-- suffered a blow from which neither have yet fully recovered. While blue-ribbon animals continued to reap high amounts on the market, the average price sank significantly.

Another issue was the limited fiber-harvesting years of even the finest animals. An alpaca has only a handful of years of commercial-quality fiber production and only a couple more years of breeding ability. That combination was taking its toll on the ranchers, diverting time and resources away from the still profitable alpacas. 

Faced with a dramatically different environment than they had envisioned, Roger and Gina chose to create their own market opportunities. Besides the wool, they recognized potential in the untapped alpaca meat market and started researching the possibility. High in iron and low in fat and cholesterol, alpaca meat proved to be a viable alternative to beef, lamb, and pork.

Australian breeders had already introduced the concept to the English-speaking world when they began marketing alpaca meat as a delicacy to gourmets and foodies Down Under a few years ago under the brand name LaViande.

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Photo by Kelly Dwyer
Three female alpacas, from L to R: fully mature, cria, young adult

Last fall, the Welcks partnered with other ranchers in a new venture called La Pacos, creating America's first domestic alpaca meat distributor. With offerings like jerky, meat sticks, ground meat and steaks, La Pacos is hoping to introduce the country to this unique protein source.

The Welcks have encountered some resistance to their ideas, mostly from other breeders. Since the average U.S. herd numbered around a dozen, many other alpaca owners had come to view their animals less as livestock and more as pets. As a result, Roger confesses, "I've gotten a couple of angry emails."  This is despite the fact that alpacas would seem to be horrible pets, being very aloof and relatively affectionless animals.

Through the La Pacos website, Roger and Gina have already begun processing orders from as far away as California.  This summer, they are planning to offer their products at the Mill City and Minneapolis Farmers Markets.  The Hot Dish imagines it's only a matter of time before State Fair-goers are daring each other to try the alpaca-meatball-on-a-stick.

We visited the ranch and brought back lots of pictures... and lots of meat. 

See the results of our taste test of the alpaca steaks, burgers, and more.

La Pacos website- for information on alpaca meat

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Photo by Kelly Dwyer
Alpaca Fiber Yarn
Twisted Suri Alpaca Ranch- produces a wide range of products, from alpaca fiber yarn and rugs to smoked dog bones and fertilizer.  "We try not to waste anything," Roger says, "We're looking at apparel grade leather in the future. We might be the first in the U.S. to do that too."

My Voice Nation Help
20 comments
Research
Research

A dog? Really? Do ur own research! There as dumb as a rock.

Bearsfan8989
Bearsfan8989

I'm not sure if the author of this article is a professional or not but you have to use FACTS in an article. Alpacas produce commercial quality fleece MUCH longer than a "handful" of years and they are still breeding at 15+ years. They live to be about 20 years and beyond. And those are just the original imports. With North American, European, and Australian vet care, feed and housing, these numbers will continue to climb. A handful of years..........please...........do some research!

As for eating them, I would MAYBE try it once but I would struggle. I grew up on a dairy farm and love to hunt, etc. So I'm not new to killing, butchering, and eating some of our animals. But, I think I view alpacas more like the family dog. And I just can't eat the family dog  : )

Goatgrrrl71
Goatgrrrl71

This article makes me sick.  I am an alpaca farmer with 56 alpacas and I totally disagree with many of the claims of this article.  The fiber can be used for longer than they state in the article.  It can be used for wet felting or needle felting, rugs, even insulation!!  If you want green, chemical free insulation!  Also, they can be used for breeding stock well into their teen years, as long as the animal is a healthy animal, so that statement is not true either.  And if you never touched or gave your dog any attention... guess what?? He would be skittish and affectionless, wouldn't he.  Does that mean you then eat him??  It seems to me that these people got into alpacas when everyone thought they could make a lucrative, fast buck... and when the market dropped on them, they decided to sell them for meat to try and make another fast buck.  If you are a christian, they don't have a cloven hoof people... There are people trying to establish a fiber industry in this country and there are not enough animals in the country to push it to a commercial level.  They are worth much more to me alive than on my dinner plate.

Bmw22
Bmw22

Sick, people these days to  anything to make a fast buck!   for the animals lives  they just need to get a life without killing loving and gentle animals for money. Sickos

Suzanne
Suzanne

You people are disgusting to say the least! Anything to make a fast buck! What is this world coming to? Are we that savage that we have to stoop to eat a camlid? Those poor animals everyone bad mouths. When I tell people that I own llamas the first thing out of their mouth is "Don't they spit". These people are ignorant. I think that more people need to be versed on the good aspects of the alpaca and llama personalities instead of the negative aspects which very few of these animals have. The public has been mislead for so many years-it is about open their eyes and try to see what a joy it is to own one of these exotic animals. They are sweet and do not bother anything! They need very little vet work other than regular wormings and yearly shots. They are pretty much disease free! Just look into one of those big dark eyes and you will instantly fall in love! Just like any animal if you treat them well-you will receive the same in return.

Rrn1028
Rrn1028

I don't think my 7 year old daughter would agree with these "Twisted" business people either, seeing as how her alpaca does limbo and high jump with her. Hmmmm.....similar to what you can train a dog to do. I guess it depends how much you enjoy the animal and how much time and effort you put into it. Are you "La Pacos" eating your dogs too, just because they aren't producing any profit for you? Maybe try mixing it with your corn chips and start a new flavor.

Mack Deb
Mack Deb

If alpaca meat was the only meat available, I'd become a vegan.

Momschenck1
Momschenck1

as with any livestock, their production time comes to an end... to keep feeding them when they no longer have usable fleece is not good business, Why waste such a healthy meat?

Raschulz
Raschulz

Twisted is RIGHT! Loco is what these folks are. If they can't make their farm work...sell out. Don't eat the stock.

Kerri Knack
Kerri Knack

Great article. After reading this, I tried the Alpaca Old World Sticks and was very impressed with the taste and texture. They were very DELISH! I couldn't wait to get more. Today my kids and I tried the Alpaca Jalapeno Sticks, which was a hit with them for an after school snack! I'm looking forward to making some Alpaca Burgers this week for the family!

Scalpaca
Scalpaca

Having raised alpacas for years, I disagree with some of the comments. Alpaca's can produce fiber for the commercial market longer than the article stated, depends on the product being manufactured from the fiber. The main issue in the US, is that there isn't a well developed fiber industry. The other comment is that alpacas are not aloof, they are like any animal - just depends on how much effort an owner extends.

SteveR
SteveR

Sorry I have to disagree with the statement "This is despite the fact that alpacas would seem to be horrible pets, being very aloof and relatively affectionless animals." If you treat them with respect and establish trust, alpacas will respond in ways that truly make your heart melt! They are intelligent creatures.

Mary Arneson
Mary Arneson

They're camelids. Wouldn't there be a big market in Minneapolis?

chefchrisray
chefchrisray

@Bearsfan8989 Many people would eat that dog for you.  Therefore eatting the Alpaca problem becomes non existent.  As for ease of preparation, as simple as any pork product.  As for flavor, very good and yes tender if prepared propely.  I don't know if I would compare the pareparation to a lean pig but I wou;ld rather compare the preparation and cooking methods to venison.  Another lean meat with many health advantages, packed with flavor.  Bon Appetito.

The Goatwoman
The Goatwoman

Actually they have cloven feet (but not hooves) and chew cud (another qualification for a "clean" animal). Most Christian denominations don't care about kosher anyway, hence why we eat pigs. Jews and Muslims do care. And yes, alpacas are livestock. Livestock get eaten. The way you have to consider this, is "what do I do with extras". If I sell them to random people, they could be abused, neglected or ripped up by dogs (yes Fido is still a carnivore and, unless trained, very dangerous to sheep, goats, and alpacas, as one of my poor goats found out). If I eat the spares, I can humanely kill them and then honor their life (and support their comrades) by making use of the animal's body. One bad day, and then I can guarantee the animal no more pain. Signed, the Goat Encyclopedia

Riverstonealpaca
Riverstonealpaca

My 21 yearold alpaca had a cria this fall so dont trll me with good care and nutrion that they only produce good fiber for a frw years and offspring for short time, many in my herd are producing in there late teens.

Nick
Nick

Tried all the meats and there awesome!

Michael Mattson
Michael Mattson

While it's true that East Africans have a tradition of eating camel meat (it's not bad either, see http://blogs.citypages.com/foo... )there are no alpaca in Africa. There's also the problem of the production of the meat- it's not halal, though easily could be.

The more likely immigrant population to be interested in alpaca would seem to be South Americans, e.g. Bolivia, Chile, Peru. To me, a restaurant that was willing to carry guinea pig has no reason to be shy about alpaca...

But if you come back on Friday and read our taste test, you'll understand why I think that you're still right, just not for the reason you might think! :)

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