Sustainability at Biltmore Estate & a Recipe for Lamb Shank Sopes

The original chicken brooder house is undergoing a restoration project

In addition to the agricultural program, Dr. Ted is a large part of the preservation program at Biltmore.  While driving through the property, we saw many old buildings in various states of disrepair.  Dr. Ted said, “These original Vanderbilt structures are National Historic Landmarks.  The mission is preservation.  We want to keep it authentic.  Mr. Cecil is adamant about that.  It is expensive to rebuild so we have adaptive reuse.  George Vanderbilt would have wanted it this way.  We want to keep the integrity of the estate.  It’s not Williamsburg.  We don’t do costumes.”

Kitchen Garden

Another important project for Dr. Ted and Biltmore is the Kitchen (or Demonstration) Garden where children can learn about growing fresh fruits and vegetables and use them in cooking.  It is so important that we teach children how to cook with real food.  Biltmore is a sponsor of ASAP’s school program (Appalachian Sustainable Agricultural Project).  Adjacent to the garden is the barn where children and adults can pet and learn about the breeds of animals at the farm.  The focus is on educating, preserving, and sustaining for the next generation, and it is evident everywhere we went on the estate.

Guests can pet and learn about the farm animals at Biltmore

It is important for all of us to consider what we can do to support the idea of being sustainable and self-sufficient.  It is important to our health, well-being, the land, and the future of our children and grandchildren.  There is much to be learned from the ongoing mission at Biltmore Estate.

Here is a short video recap of our visit to Biltmore.

I want to thank everyone who showed us a behind scenes view of the agricultural program at Biltmore Estate including Dr. Ted, Melonye Trivett , Eli Herman, Dennis Wynne, and Marissa Jamison.  It was great to see theory put in to practice.

Executive Chef Damien Cavicchi

There is no better way to experience the efforts of these individuals and their team at Biltmore than to enjoy a special lunch at Lioncrest (one of their private venues) prepared with some of the meats and produce raised on property at Biltmore.  Estate Executive Chef Damien Cavicchi created a menu for us that highlighted their estate raised lamb, beef, and produce and incorporated other beautiful seasonal ingredients, many from local farms.


Beautifully plated – Hamachi with Fruit and Vegetable Salad

Chef Cavicchi’s creative dishes used some cuts of protein that are nontraditional in order to use as much of the animal as possible.  As Chef Cavicchi said, “with the cost of beef becoming so expensive, we all need to learn how to use cuts that are not as well known.  It is important to use the entire animal.”

Chef’s Table Lunch at Lioncrest

Our four courses included: Hamachi with Fruit and Vegetable Salad; Lamb Shank Sopes with Tomatoes, Fennel, and Manchego; Grilled Beef Heart and Bison Steak with New Potatoes, Lentils, Radicchio, Capers, and Brown Butter; and Rhubarb Crostada with Milk Chocolate and Olive oil.  Each course was paired with Biltmore wines.

Preparing Lamb Shank Sopes at home

Chef Cavicchi has shared his recipe for the Lamb Shank Sopes we enjoyed at lunch.  Perfect for fall, this earthy and delectable sauce with the lamb was even better served the next day.  Roasting the lamb in the oven and then cooking it for several hours makes the meat incredibly tender.  Including those juices and brown bits from roasting the shanks adds more depth to the sauce.  I did not reduce the liquids quite as much as Chef Cavicchi and added a bit more wine at the end to have additional sauce.

Be sure to serve the lamb shanks with all of the condiments.  It is fabulous!


*Photographs courtesy of Biltmore Estate

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Lamb Shank Sopes


For Lamb:
4 each lamb shanks [shanks are about 1 1/4 pounds each]
1 each medium yellow onion, cut into 1 inch dice
2 each large carrots cut into 1/2 inch dice
4 each cloves garlic, whole
1/3 cup tomato paste
2 cups red wine
3 cups water
6 each fresh thyme sprigs tied in a bundle
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
4 each bay leaves
Salt and red pepper flakes to taste
Vegetable oil as needed

For Sopes:
3 cups masa harina, plus extra for dusting
2 cups warm water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Vegetable oil for frying

For serving:
Chopped fresh fennel
Chopped tomatoes
Crumbled queso fresco
Fresh lime wedges


For lamb:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Pat lamb dry and coat lightly with oil. Season with salt, place on sheet tray and brown in oven 30-40 minutes, turning once.

3. Set large Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add oil to coat the bottom, along with the onions carrots and garlic. Season with salt and cook until vegetables are soft – about ten minutes – lower heat if necessary. Add tomato paste, coriander, cumin, chili powder and bay leaves. Cook about two minutes over medium heat until deep red color is achieved.

4. Add red wine and scrape up any brown bits. Simmer about five minutes.

5. Remove lamb from oven. Discard any fat, add a small amount of water to sheet pan and loosen any brown bits. Add lamb, browned bits and liquid to Dutch oven along with water, thyme, salt and red pepper. Cover with lid or foil and return to oven. Reduce heat to 350 degrees. Cook 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until very tender.

6. Remove bones, thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Pull apart meat, reserve in cooking liquid overnight in refrigerator.

For sopes:
1. Mix all three ingredients together until a dough forms. Add a little more water if dough seems too dry. Knead about two minutes.

2. Portion dough into golf ball sized balls. Lightly dust a counter surface with masa harina and using a rolling pin, roll dough into a 1/2 inch thickness. Or place dough between two pieces of parchment paper, and press with a plate.

3. To cook, heat about 1/2 inch of oil in heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Cook about one minute on each side until golden brown. Loosely cover with foil and hold in a warm area.

To Serve:
1. Scrape any congealed fat from surface of lamb. Reheat in cooking liquid on stove top. Taste and adjust seasoning. Distribute lamb evenly over sopes. Top with chopped fresh fennel, tomatoes and queso fresco. Serve with lime wedge.

Biltmore Estate Executive Chef Damien Cavicchi



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