An unexpected lunch in the outback changed the direction of Graeme Howie's (Dorper Lamb) working life. Having eyed the dorper sheep breed with scepticism (as many did when it arrived in Australia 20 years ago), our Buy West Eat Best local food hero made a surprising discovery.

“I came across the dorper breed on a farm at Bakers Hill near Northam. The day before I got there, one of the ram lambs had jumped a fence and broken its leg. The farmer cooked me chops for lunch. I was there with a vet and we both said ‘Wow, this is good lamb! It’s a cleaner tasting, juicier lamb.’ I was quite taken by it.”

Graeme was struck with the realisation that different breeds of sheep could deliver diverse flavours and textures. Just as Shiraz grapes taste different to malbec and cabernet sauvignon, dorper meat differs from merino and Suffolk. Despite having never worked with dorpers in a career that has spanned jackarooing, working on live sheep carrier boats and livestock exporting, he backed his hunch.

“I’d been watching the livestock industry develop over a lifetime and I thought it was time to do some lamb branding. I decided on the dorper breed.”

Graeme and wife Nina started selling dorper meat cuts in 2004 and, with no objections to their registering of the Dorper Lamb brand name, made it official in 2006. Eleven years later, that hunch has paid off. They now move 200,000kgs of lamb and beef a year, sourced from about 26 farmers who are chosen for their dedication to sustainable farming practices and animal welfare.

“Chefs in the restaurants encouraged me to continue. They wanted something different on their plates, something with a story, with a supply chain behind it.”

“We started off with the brand, selling a few boxes of lamb. Today we’re a full-on meat distribution business for top end hotels and restaurants in Perth, with four refrigerated paddy wagons zipping around the city. On top of that, 50 percent of our product goes overseas, into Dubai, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.”

“We’re also a contributor to the Margaret Court Community Outreach program and to Perth soup kitchens. I’m pretty proud of our little company.”