Scotch Lamb takes its quality and characteristics from extensive grazing on the pastures of Scotland, where it is allowed to roam free. Over 80% of Scotland’s agricultural area is covered by grass and rough grazing and much of this is unsuitable for arable crops, fruit and veg. It is, however, perfect for hill sheep to make scotch lamb. Scotch lamb is a seasonal dish, and is at its very best during the late summer months and autumn following the Spring lambing period. To be officially classed as Scotch lamb, the meat must have been derived from lambs born, reared throughout their lives, slaughtered and dressed within the mainland of Scotland, including the islands off the West Coast, Orkney and the Shetland Isles.
Since the turn of the century, Scotch lamb has enjoyed a reputation for eating qualities based on freshness, flavour and tenderness, which is believed to come from the farming style used for sheep in Scotland, including extensive grass feeding, and the Scottish climate. The sheep breeds used for Scotch lamb have been developed for meat production, rather than milk or wool.
After slaughter and dressing, the lamb may be sold either as a whole carcass or broken down into cuts. A whole carcass is defined as the whole body, excluding all inedible offal, skin, head feet and all edible offal except the kidneys. Cuts of lamb may vary with regional preference, but they typically may include the hind, saddle, fore, leg, loin and shoulder. Cuts may be presented bone in or boneless according to the customer’s requirements.
The most common kind of Scotch lamb is Scottish Blackface sheep. A high percentage of Blackies are farmed in Scotland because they can survive in places most other breeds can’t, like in the Scottish climate. The most common varieties are Perth, which is large framed, with a long coat, and the medium-framed Lanark type. Other breeds of Scotch lamb include Cheviot, Scotch Mule, Texel and Shetland.
Scotch lamb is versatile and quick to cook, or can be slowly cooked for greater flavour. The neck is tougher than other cuts, but when cooked slowly, can be used in diced products for stews and curries. The shoulder can be cooked slower and longer than leg joints for a more tender result, and can be used for joints, steaks, diced for stewing or mince. It lends itself to many cooking methods, including roast, pot roast, pan fry, grill, bbq and stew. The shank is fairly lean and must be cooked slowly. It suits braising or being used in a casserole. The breast, often underused, can be used in joints or as mince. It suits braising, slow roasting or a casserole. Rack of lamb is a versatile cut that can be but into chops known as cutlets, or roasted whole. The loin is often marketed as a quick to cook cut that can be roasted, pan fried, grilled or barbequed. The leg is another well-known and versatile cut, lending itself to being roasted bone-in or boned, or cut into Scotch lamb steaks, which can be grilled or pan-fried.