Go in like a lion and out with a lamb.
It’s one of the wildest, woolliest stops on our Western New York 100 Things list. You brave the crowds at the Broadway Market, which goes crazy in the week leading up to Easter. Your trophy: a butter lamb, a tradition inherited from the Polish.
Butter lambs are practically unique to Western New York, which helps explain why we all need one, whether we’re Polish or not, and why expats thank God that Wegmans carries them. The only place in the world that makes this whimsical confection, to anyone’s knowledge, is Camellia Meats. Camellia, whose stand sits at the southeast corner of the Broadway Market, received the butter lamb business from the hallowed hands of Malczewski Poultry, famous for making the lambs for decades.
“They came to us,” said Adam Cichoki, Camellia’s retail manager. “Dorothy Malczewski was still around, but was getting older, Jim (Malczewski) was running it. He wanted to retire and move to a different part of the country. He came to us and said, ‘Do you guys want to do this?’
“He came to us because of our Polish heritage. Being on the East Side of Buffalo since the 1930s, we had the background already. He helped us out the first year, getting everything together. The year 2012 was our first Easter. It was cool because I was excited, I was a little younger – I’m 26 – and my dad put me in charge when it came to making them. It was fun for me, ’cause I grew up with the butter lamb. It was fun to be a part of it.”
Twenty tons of butter every year, Cichoki estimated, go into fattening those butter lambs. They are molded at Camellia’s Genesee Street facility. Pastry artists apply the butter curls that make the wool.
Then it’s to market, to market.
In a nod to nostalgia, Camellia sets up an Easter stand where Malczewski’s Easter stand used to be. A giant yellow butter lamb looms over the counter, where duck blood soup and pickled eggs are also to be had. A big cardboard butter lamb is available for your #butterlamb selfie.
Leading the parade of butter lambs for sale is the giant $16.99 “head-turned” lamb, its face turned adorably toward you. Then there’s the $13.99 “straight-faced” lamb, looking straight ahead. And so on, down to the wee quarter-pounder in its iconic blue and white box.
Each lamb’s rear bears a flag reading “Alleluia.” Around each lamb’s neck is a ribbon, either red or orchid.
“The red is traditional because of the Blood of Christ,” Cichoki said. “The orchid was introduced by Dorothy (Malczewski) because it was her favorite color.”
Whichever color you choose, take care not to toss it if, emulating the faithful, you put your butter lamb in your Easter basket and bring it to a priest to get it blessed.
“If you take it to get it blessed, you have to burn the ribbon,” Lorraine Januchowski of Sloan explained over the din.
Another customer, Amanda Zagst, offered more butter-lamb-buying wisdom.
“I’ll tell you what you don’t do,” she said, as her husband looked on holding their infant. “Don’t leave it till the last minute, or you’ll have to try making one yourself.”
One year, she recalled sheepishly, she tried that – using toothpicks, two sticks of butter and instructions she found on Pinterest. Alas, she learned that homemade butter lambs are no substitute for the real thing.
“They look nothing like it,” she admitted. She had to run at the last minute to Tops, where she found one lone lamb left.
Which leaves one lone question: With the lamb in hand, what happens when it’s time to eat?
“There’s really no tradition,” Cichoki said. “When I was a kid I loved going for its head. Now, one of the kids gets to take the first slice of the butter lamb.
“Kids get a kick out of it,” he laughed. “It’s not something you see every day.”