The first time I ate alpaca I wasn’t at some kind of “last supper” before trekking to Machu Picchu. I wasn’t in Adelaide, where an Australian company has made the red meat popular in recent years. My first taste of alpaca happened right here in Denver, at the Curtis Club. In my August review of the restaurant I explain that one of the things I liked most about chef Eric Johnson’s menu is his use of alluring meats, alpaca included.

This long-necked member of the camel family has historically been raised for its fleece, but U.S. farmers recently began raising alpaca for meat as well. Lean and rich, Modern Farmer dubbed alpaca “the other red meat.”

Johnson, who serves alpaca loin chops with fava beans, Kennebec potatoes, king trumpet mushrooms, and a Shiraz sauce, says “cooking with alpaca needs to be done with care. [It’s] so lean it cannot tolerate being cooked over medium with good results.” Among other attributes, Johnson likes to cook with the meat is for sustainability reasons. “[My supplier] tells me that alpaca has a restorative effect on overgrazed pasture,” Johnson says. “It has something to do with their small hoof print and foraging tendencies.” The chef explains that alpaca is a greener choice than even grass fed beef.

Johnson gets his alpaca chops from Weather’d T Ranch, southeast of Castle Rock. At the moment, he is the ranch’s only meat customer. But perhaps we will start seeing more of it up and down the Front Range. “[Alpaca] has proved to be a very popular item for us,” Johnson says.” Based on the success of Buckhorn Exchange and Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs it seems that Denverites have long been open to trying alternative meats. Perhaps more chefs will follow Johnson’s lead and give alpaca a try.

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