On a Dutch Island, Sunsets, Bike Rides and the Great Lamb Chase

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Sebastian Modak

Texel is the biggest of the Dutch islands, and is a popular getaway for Amsterdammers, though it is largely off the radar of more far-flung vacationers. With a maximum elevation of around 80 feet, the island is crisscrossed by bike lanes that run between its seven villages and the protected national park lands and farms that cover the rest. Though reportedly packed in the summer, when I arrived in the final days of spring, it was still largely empty. I pedaled up and down the entire island at least three times and could coast for 40-minute stretches without seeing another person. The crisp air carried whiffs of farm animals and sea salt, and migratory birds making pit stops competed with vocal sheep for airtime.

The night before I had tasted the best lamb I have ever eaten at Bil Jef, a restaurant and hotel in the village of Den Hoorn less than four miles from the farm, and I had decided to go looking for its source.

I was ushered into the kitchen by Mr. Bakker’s mother, who spoke rapid-fire Dutch (which I do not speak) while motioning at me to take a seat. She brought out a young volunteer who told me, in English, to come back a few hours later to meet Mr. Bakker — and his 400-odd sheep.

“We live by the seasons and every season has its own nature, its own beauty,” Mr. Schuur told me, before I experienced his “Local Meets Cosmopolitan” seven-course prix fixe menu.

For spring, that meant a whirlwind of raw fish, fresh vegetables given a subtle saline boost by the seawater that seeps into the soil, and lamb that immediately wipes away any thoughts about how soft and cuddly the ones were that you saw on your bike ride to the restaurant. There was a raw razor clam, churned into a soft tartare to be slurped right out of its long shell; two lamb courses, one a flank cooked to perfection, the other a shoulder brined for 36 hours and cooked for 12; and mackerel, accompanied by shaved raw asparagus and chorizo herbs, the spice mix used in the Iberian sausage.

The three-hour meal was magnified by the fact that I was alone, mindful of every bite. By the time dessert rolled up — Pernod ice cream with blood orange chunks and topped with a chip of caramelized tarragon — I was in a state of euphoria. The next morning though, a little more clear-headed, I had one mission: Track down that lamb.

On my day shadowing Mr. Bakker on his feeding rounds, I asked if he accepts tourist visits.

“We do bring in groups — from organized tours or companies — to show them around, but in general we’re too busy working,” he said. “But for individual tourists, if somebody comes up to the shop to have some cheese, my mother will make the decision of whether they are O.K. to come on the farm or she just waves, ‘Bye-bye.’”

And has Texel changed a lot during his 40 years on the island?

“I’d say no, because this farm has always been my world,” he said. “But if anything, we’re more hand-in-hand than ever before. Forty years ago, most of the restaurants on the island were still serving lamb from New Zealand, but now nearly all of it comes from the island. It’s just made us stronger as a community of farmers, butchers, chefs.”

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