Mutton Dressed as Lamb

Believe it or not Mutton is not always what it seems.

We are part of Prince Charles’ Mutton Rennaisance campaign. The campaign rightly draws the destintion between hogget lamb (over a year old) and Mutton (over 2 years old), but that is about it.

What about wether mutton? What about an old yow? There is an important difference in both taste and texture and therefore a difference in how you should cook them.

I know some people who sell hogget lamb as mutton (just plain dishonest) as it does take a long time to produce quality 3-4 year old mutton. But as far as I’m concerend it has to be over 3 to have the depth of flavour we all love so much.

In times when wool was worth something, wethers (castrated male sheep) were kept in numbers just for their wool. At the end of their working life they were killed for meat. As they were not produced especially for this purpose they were a scarcity and in great demand by the great and the good. Often used as a sunday best joint or for prime mutton chops.

As Mrs Beeton said:

“This homely, but capital English joint…”

Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861) (p184),

The “old yow” was a ewe that had lived her useful breeding life and was sent to slaughter as a by-productm, most often long stewed the meat is more grainy and fall of the bone when boiled.

The uplands of Britain is where the best mutton came from in Mrs. Beetons time. Even then it was recognised that the herbs in the animals diet had a major impact on their flavour. As Dorothy Hartley said in “Food in England” (p139):

“Now the small Welsh mutton is acceptedly the best. The herds are free-ranging, and on most of the hills there is an abundance of wild thyme, the spicy herb which gives the Welsh mutton its characteristic flavour.”

While some upland areas still have good herb content, agricultural intensification means it is not what it once was.  You can still get great quality mutton raised on traditional english wildflower meadows and pastures. The main thing is to ask the producer or check their information to see what grazing they have access to.

At Phepson we have always been great believers in protecting our local flora as it really adds to the flavour of our meat. But you can still get quality Mutton from upland areas still managed for wildlife or as grouse moors. The heather really adds something. We are also patient when fattening all our mutton, by getting them in great condition off herb pastures the ewes and wether all have that great fat layer for flavour and can be cooked for prime steaks/chops/joints or slow braised/boiled in the traditional way.

Would you rather your mutton was fed slowly on Orchids and Heather or on a monoculture of modern grasses? A quick search on Big Barn should help you find some quality stuff local to you. It is a really growing  sector, we are searching for more wildflower rich land to try to meet demand!

The main thing is to ask the producer or check the information they already provide. If they really do go the extra mile why wouldn’t they want to tell you about it?



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