One fine summer day I went up-Island-farm-hopping, looking for lamb. I came home with cheese. And a coffee lassi. Sausage. And a blueberry plant.

Oh, I did get some lamb, too, just not the lamb I expected. (And if you’re thinking I returned with a live lamb, well, I almost did. Up at Allen Farm, a little puppyish bottle-fed three-month-old nearly got in the car with me.)

So here’s the thing: I was looking for lamb in all the right places, but I might not have been looking for the “right” cut, because there is no such thing. I learned a lesson about expectations, once again. (Life, lamb, it’s all the same.)

Shopping for local meat is not like going to the grocery store. If you get your mind stuck on one recipe and one cut of meat, you may be disappointed if you can’t find that cut in the freezer at the farm stand the moment you arrive. However, if you default to one of a couple strategies, you’ll be happy.

First, start by thinking about flavors and stay open to the possibility of pairing them with any one of a few different cuts. It’s okay to set your sights on lamb. Lamb, in my mind, is something special. I associate it with holidays and celebrations; with the annual asados of my ex-husband’s Argentine clan; with living in Brooklyn, oddly enough, across the street from the bustling Middle Eastern spice and specialty store Sahadi Importing Co. I remember once standing on the busy corner of Atlantic and Pacific, waiting for the light to change, next to a fellow carrying a skinned lamb slung over his shoulder.

If lamb is special, our lamb is even more so. (If you were a sheep, wouldn’t you want to graze the grassy, salt-kissed hills of Chilmark?) But all the parts taste good, not just the leg. They all pair well with brawny fresh herbs, such as rosemary and mint; with briny olives; with bold citrus; and bright vinegar. And stone fruits. Warm spices. Cool yogurt.

On the morning of my farm spree, I ran into both farmer Caitlin Jones at Mermaid Farm and farmer Clarissa Allen at Allen Farm, both in Chilmark. 

When I mentioned lamb, Jones said that she is currently loving lamb steaks. 

When I saw Allen she told me how popular the ground lamb is and how delicious the stew meat is and handed me a package.

But, uh, I’m looking for a boneless leg of lamb, I said, peering into their freezers hopefully. No boneless leg, but there were the sweetest looking loin chops in the Allen Farm freezer. Loin chops – what a treat, I thought. And Mermaid Farm had riblets. Riblets! Riblets! When was the last time you had lamb riblets, or even had the chance to say the word fast twice?

I wound up going home with loin chops and ground lamb. While I was at Mermaid, a lovely Persian-American couple on vacation described the lamb burgers they made with copious amounts of fresh mint and parsley. (The husband also thanked Jones with tears pooling in his eyes for the oakleaf lettuce he had been eating every day. I kid you not, that was a farm stand moment like I’ve never seen.)

If this idea of staying open and flexible really doesn’t work for you, you have another option, provided you can plan ahead. This second strategy is basically an override of the first one: call your farmer. In other words, instead of hopping in your car and playing farm stand roulette (which, as you can probably tell by now, I enjoy as much as the meal that comes from it), you can actually get on the phone and see what these folks have in stock.

Both Jones and Allen said they have more inventory than what they are able to put in their small farm stand freezers, and they are happy to sell whatever they’ve got. The folks at The Grey Barn in Chilmark let me know that since they do their lambing a little earlier in the year, they will actually have a new round of lamb in their farm stand in early August.

Once you get your lamb home (preferably not slung over your shoulder), that whole flexibility thing comes into play again as you prepare to grill it. I’ve given you a recipe on the following page that doubles as a marinade or a sauce (but not both at the same time). Use the marinade on bigger cuts, such as a boneless leg of lamb, or use the same ingredients to make a vinaigrette to drizzle over chops after cooking. I don’t like to marinate chops, as I think the tender pink meat should be left alone.

And speaking of pink: medium-rare lamb, please. An instant-read thermometer can be your best friend when grilling.

The following recipe was originally published along with this article: 

Grilled Rosemary Garlic Lamb