Truth About Lamb
In recent years, we have found that many people have been put off buying lamb for a number of reasons; it may be due to the price of the popular cuts or that they think it is not good value due to the amount of bone and fat left on the plate. They may have preconceived ideas about the fat content, or it might just be down to a lack of confidence in how to cook lamb. If any of these apply to you then read on as we help you to re-discover the versatility of lamb and help you find the right cut for you.
Lamb can vary in taste, according to the age of the animal and the type of pasture it was grazed on.
Although lamb breeds have not become 'designer labels’ like Angus Beef, there are a number of factors that can determine the taste of lamb.
New Season Spring Lamb
The first new season lamb you see in the shops is most likely to come from the South West of England where they graze Poll Dorset sheep which characteristically lamb early in the season. As the spring season progresses you will see new season lamb from more northern parts of the country on sale. Likewise lowland farmers take their new season lamb to market earlier than their hill farming counterparts. From early May onwards you should be able to buy new season lamb from any part of the country.
New season lamb is very popular due to its delicate flavour and succulent, tender texture. The younger the animal the sweeter, more tender the meat and milder the flavour, which means you don’t need to add many other flavours when cooking other than a bit of seasoning; this is one reason why new season lamb is so popular.
Young lambs are reliant for their nutrients from their mother’s milk but start to eat grass from 3-4 weeks of age, eventually becoming totally dependant on their forage diet. The majority of early season lambs are reared almost entirely from grass, occasionally having a supplement of cereals to balance the forage ration.
As the grass growing season slows down this can lead to a more variable type of meat and fat, but the meat should always be moist with a deep, rosy pink colour but not red or bloody. Early season lambs have a softer whiter fat. Fat coverage is important as a small quantity in the cooking enhances the succulence and overall flavour of the lamb during cooking.
Older Season Autumn Lamb
This is a more mature lamb and the meat has a deeper, richer colour and flavour. As the grass growing season slows down with the onset of autumn, the lambs diet might be supplemented to ensure the lambs have sufficient food; this might be with conserved grass (hay or silage) or a mixture of cereals or forage crops such as stubble turnips. The external fat becomes harder, as the animal becomes older. Autumn lambs tend to be a little older, having matured more slowly spending the summer months grazing on lush pastures, producing a more robust, fuller flavour and as a result it complements more intensely flavoured additional recipe ingredients.
Hogget and Mutton
Any lamb that enters its second spring season becomes known as Hogget (close to a year old) and from 18 months onwards it is known as mutton. Most mutton breeds are mainly hill breeds and mature at a slower pace. Traditionally, hogget and mutton were enjoyed during the autumn and winter months. They have a differeny taste to younger lamblending themselves to slow cook dishes with a stronger flavour but definitely worth a try. The meat has a tighter texture and mouth-feel and a more gamey flavour than ordinary lamb.