Much ado about mutton: why the aged lamb product is back on the popular menu
Sheep farming faces many challenges as the economics of meat and wool production prove unreliable, but Barry Shelby reports on the renewed interest in an aged lamb product.
Foods fall in and out of fashion, but over the past 100 years arguably nothing lost its appeal quite as badly as mutton. Its ignominy is confirmed by the well-known backhanded compliment that compares it unfavourably to its now dominant rival, lamb. But mutton – that is the meat from sheep no less than two years old – is making a comeback. At least among gourmands, who appreciate its depth of flavour (and who know how to prepare it).
From his farm in Dumfries and Galloway, Ben Weatherall reports that he’s seen a ten-fold increase in internet sales in the past few years. In addition to the general public, particularly keen buyers include some top London-based chefs whose business he has cultivated: well-kent names such as Jeremy Lee and Fergus Henderson.
On Shetland, sheep and rare-breed cattle farmer Ronnie Eunson is less sanguine. ‘Plenty of food writers want to talk about it,’ he says wryly from Uradale Farm, ‘but that hasn’t necessarily translated into customers.’ Before mutton can make a true comeback, butchers and consumers need to have more confidence in the meat’s preparation. Too many remain unfamiliar with the product, even if mutton dishes prove a big hit when served in restaurants or at Slow Food gatherings.
One key to turning raw mutton into virtual spun gold is a long, slow cook. In the Weatherall household, the trick is to salt and pepper a leg, place it in a low oven for about a dozen hours (eg over night), finish for 40 minutes in a hot oven and then let it rest for another three quarters of an hour.
It’s too soon to be certain, but one day we might be talking about how someone is ‘lamb dressed as mutton’.
Other sources of Scottish mutton
Ardalanish Farm: www.ardalanish.com
Fast Castle: www.fast-castle.co.uk
Mey Selections: www.mey-selections.com
Scottish Organic Lamb: www.scottishorganiclamb.com
Shetland Food Directory: www.foodshetland.com