Sun Raised Foods opened up their Cornelius, NC shop in 2017, but have been investing in local farmers and sheep here in the Carolinas since 2012 under the grounds maintenance company Sun Raised Farms.
Sun Raised Farms identified, trained, and managed local sheep farmers who benefited from increased access to pasture and supplemental income in exchange for maintaining the vegetation on solar farms. As the number of solar farms grew, it became apparent that a market was needed for lamb once the grass growing season was over.
This was the genesis of Sun Raised Foods, which sells the lamb raised on North Carolina Solar Farms. When Sun Raised opened their shop, they partnered with a local salami producer that made the first batch of lamb salami that they have become known for. After several years of developing the recipes with some of the most talented salami makers in the US, Sun Raised now has 4 different lamb salamis, in addition to prime lamb cuts.
To promote local lamb, Sun Raised Foods partners with local chefs hosts farm to table dinners at their largest farm in Montgomery County, as well as at local farm to table restaurants in the Charlotte area and even at the Lovill House Inn Bed and Breakfast in Boone. The joint venture between shop + farm is a part of a shared sustainable journey with the end product being the same: well-manicured grounds on the solar farms in addition to gourmet lamb products.
We had the chance to talk with founder and co-owners Tonje and Joel Olsen to get to know Sun Raised Foods and all they have to offer after 10 years in business.
Tell us about the events you host each year.
We began working with local restaurants just before Covid to bring our customers together for a 4-course dinner featuring Sun Raised Foods lamb prepared in at least 3 different ways. We have partnered with restaurants like Lincoln Street Kitchen and Cocktails in Charlotte’s Southend, and hosted dinners with famous chefs at the Montgomery Sheep Farm in the center of the state, and at the Lovill House Inn Bed and Breakfast in Boone. Each dinner event is unique, the lamb dishes are differently prepared, the wines that are paired with each course are different. However, each event shares a cozy atmosphere where new friendships are built and delicious food is devoured!
Tell us about your farm.
Our largest farm is called the Montgomery Sheep Farm and is located about 60 miles from Charlotte on 200 acres. We have 500 sheep, Great Pyrenees dogs, peacocks and enough solar panels to power more than 3000 homes. It has become somewhat of a research station to develop best practices for raising sheep on solar farms. We offer farm to table dinners, farm tours, and even farm stays in the farm cabin. The lamb dinners are very special, where guests arrive around 3pm and get a special guided tour of the entire farm. Our farm is only a little over an hour from the Charlotte area but a world away in mind and spirit. To respect the heat and the bugs, we only have our lamb dinners at the farm in the Spring and Fall.
Like any farm, we are always trying to find a way to make the farm go around. We host local events, weddings, offer weekend getaways on Airbnb, and most recently Racketeer Records used the farm to shoot their new album cover. We call it a big man cave!
What types of products and packages do you offer?
Our most popular product is our lamb salami for which we have won several awards, but we have all of the traditional Lamb cuts like Lamb Chops, Leg, Shoulder, and Ground Lamb. Some of our customers like the hard to get but nutritious organ meats and even lamb bones for healthy bone broth. Most recently we released a New Lamb sausage or bratwurst with Garlic and other seasonings that we are very excited about.
Can our readers find your products in use with other businesses or restaurants in Charlotte and which ones that we might know?
We have had a long partnership with Lincoln Street Kitchen and Cocktails in Southend. They currently have Sun Raised Foods Lamb Harissa Meatballs that are delicious! Orman’s Cheese Shop and Pasta and Provisions sell our lamb salami in Charlotte and we have a small store at our office in Cornelius. Every weekend you can find Sun Raised Foods lamb cuts and salami at the Farmers markets in Davidson, Mathews, and Southern Pines.
What is different about Sun Raised Food products when compared to similar items people might find in their local grocer or markets?
Most of the lamb sold in local grocers and markets is from a sheep with wool and is imported from Australia or New Zealand. The wool gives sheep a more gamey flavor from the lanolin. Sun Raised Foods raises “hair” sheep that do not have wool to shear or affect the flavor of the meat. Our lamb has a more mild flavor with less of a gamey taste. We raise our animals on pasture under solar panels in North Carolina after strict animal welfare standards and never use antibiotics or artificial growth hormones in our Lamb. Sun Raised Foods is one of the few companies that offers a 100% Lamb Salami in the US.
Have you won any awards for your products, and if so, which one are you most proud of?
Our State Magazine awarded Sun Raised Foods the Made in NC awards for our Lamb Salami in the food category in 2022 and we won the national Good Food award in 2023 for our Finocchiona Lamb Salami.
What is the easiest way for people to find and purchase Sun Raised Foods products?
The easiest way is to order our products online and pick it up in our store or have it delivered to your door at sunraisedfoods.com. We have a lot of customers that visit our small charcuterie / lamb shop in Cornelius, or meet us at the Davidson, Matthews, or Southern pines farmers markets.
What is the most popular item you sell, or what would you say you are most known for?
Lamb Salami is a popular item in addition to Charcuterie Boxes that have our Lamb Salami and local artisanal crafted items in one box. These are perfect for holiday parties and for gifting occasions. Recently Lamb Burgers, and the new Lamb Bratwurst have become very popular.
What is your favorite Lamb recipe?
Right now, it’s Lamb shoulder in Greek American Lamb Tacos. It’s so juicy and flavorful and you can’t go wrong cooking it! About a year ago we had a party and we completely forgot about the Lamb shoulder in the oven. It ended up being there an hour + extra but still it was so yummy. You seriously can’t mess it up!
What are you most proud of with Sun Raised Foods?
I am most proud of the fact that people who buy our lamb care where their meat comes from and what’s in it. It is not an easy audience to please but I am a mother who sometimes struggles to find healthy, clean food to feed my children. I really care what’s in the food I buy and where it comes from. Sun Raised Foods gave me the opportunity to control where our animals are raised, what they eat, and how they are treated. I have chosen who processes our animals and what is in our products. It’s also very cool to be able to create clean food and clean energy on the same land.
Anything coming up in the future you can tell us about?
Lincoln Street Kitchen is hosting our next Farm to Table Lamb dinner on Thursday, October 12th. The farm is hosting two different chefs to prepare Farm to Table dinners on Saturday,October 21st and on Saturday, November 4th. It is a little drive into the country but well worth it. Our last dinner this fall is a friendsgiving dinner at the historic Lovill House Inn Bed and Breakfast in Boone on Thursday, November 15th.
All of the Sun Raised events are listed on their web site at www.sunraisedfoods.com/events. so if you find an event you want to attend, be sure to register before it sells out.