Meat from sheep over two years old is classified as mutton. This meat is tougher, darker in colour and has a much stronger flavour than lamb.
Mutton recipes have, in previous years, developed a negative reputation and
Although mutton is available all year round, the best meat is produced between October and March. During this time, the sheep have a good forage-based diet with good access to nutritious grass and heather. This diet enables them to put on fat before being slaughtered. Breeds such as the Hebridean, Herdwick, Romney, Shetland, Welsh Mountain and Southdown, are all known to produce good tasting mutton. The Blackface sheep is also one of Britain’s most popular breeds with a reputation for tender and sweet meat. Like sheep for lamb, the sheep are raised in a non-intensive system which gives them better conditions to graze.
To improve the reputation of the meat in 2004, the Prince of Wales launched the Mutton Renaissance in order to help farmers sell their older sheep and get the meat back onto the nation’s plates. The farming must now meet the standards for the Renaissance with these criteria: produced to a farm assurance standard; sheep must be over 2; female or castrates, no males; any breed; finishing diet to be forage based; carcase must be matured for at least two weeks.
Cuts of mutton are similar to those of lamb but tend to be larger, darker in colour and have a richer flavour. It tends to lack the mildness and tenderness of the lamb meat and has more fat than lamb. The mutton should be a rich brown colour with a creamy-white fat, any grey or yellow fat should be avoided. High-quality mutton is available from butchers, farm shops/markets, and mail-order outlets. Butchers should be able to give good information about the life, age, breed, and raising of the sheep.
Cooking with mutton is simple and is sometimes overlooked. It is an easy meat to prepare as it can be left to cook for hours with minimal stress. Mutton recipes such as casseroles and tagine can be left in the oven for a few hours. The strong, almost gamey, flavour of the meat mellows and sweetens during cooking. Popular cuts of mutton include the legs, shoulders, loin and neck. Another popular choice is the mutton chop, a cut of meat from the sheep including the rib. Mutton chop recipes could include braising and