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Chris Berry explains why both mutton and hogget meat are increasing in popularity
Flavour and the enjoyment of tasty, distinctive meat has brought an about-turn in the fortunes of mutton. Its resurgence has also been ably assisted by no less than Charles, HRH Prince of Wales who launched the mutton Renaissance Campaign and leading chefs including Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Jamie Oliver and Marco Pierre White.
Farmison & Co's commitment to making available quality, flavoursome mutton that has been produced to the highest ethical Farm Assured standards sees a new season of Swaledale mutton in season now, fresh from the summer months of grass fed nutrition. It is at this time of year that mutton is said to be at its best.
But what is mutton? And what is hogget? And what has brought mutton back on the menu in restaurants, hotels and on the dinner table?
WHAT IS MUTTON?
Do you remember the phrase 'she's mutton dressed as lamb'? This was meant to imply that a woman was wearing something more becoming of a younger lady and that perhaps she was living in the past recalling younger days. The reasoning behind the phrase is that mutton is when the sheep has become older than lamb.
The basics are this: a Lamb is so-called up until it is 12 months old; once it has gone beyond a year old it is then regarded as a juvenile sheep, referred to as a Hogget; and at two years of age that same animal's meat is Mutton. So Mutton is the next phase on from Lamb and Hogget, although the sheep itself is not referred to as a mutton sheep.
Many food experts talk of mutton's much tastier, richer flavour than lamb. The meat is generally darker in colour than lamb in a similar way to that of beef from traditional breeds of cattle. Food experts also believe the best mutton comes from a 4 year old sheep, which will generally be a ewe sheep.
Centuries previously mutton was once the staple diet in the UK. There are many country pubs that bear the name Shoulder of Mutton, exemplifying just how much the meat was once in the nation's consciousness. By the 19th century it had become a Sunday treat with potatoes and half a pint of light ale, but the nation's move towards mainly eating lamb saw its fortunes decline until recent times. There was never a falling out of love with mutton, it was just that lamb became the sheep meat that received greater advertising and became more fashionable.
Mutton's revival and indeed renaissance has been fuelled by an ever more enthused food nation in the UK that has a passion for meat that dances on the palate. That's the reason why Charles, HRH Prince of Wales is involved in its comeback and why it is now seen on the menu in fabulous, award winning restaurants such as The Ivy, The Ritz and Le Gavroche. Prince Charles has been quoted as saying that mutton is his favourite dish.
There are now reputed to be over 200 family farms in the UK that are producing excellent mutton. The Swaledale grass-fed mutton that Farmison & Co sources from farmers across the North of England is highly regarded amongst leading restaurants throughout the UK.
Traditional Swaledale mutton provides what many leading chefs regard as one of the best mutton eating experiences. The reasoning is that the traceability and assurance that Swaledales (pronounced Swardles in some areas of Yorkshire) have been wholly fed on grass is there for all to see. The Swaledale sheep are an environmental delight, assisting with maintaining a landscape yet also producing distinctive, full-flavoured meat which is what Farmison & Co's customers' hallmark - it ticks all of the boxes by looking good on the plate and providing a unique, satisfying taste. It's certainly one to talk about with your friends.
There are a huge number of mutton recipes and several books devoted to mutton including a new release this year called 'Much Ado About Mutton' written by Bob Kennard. It features a foreword from HRH Prince of Wales.
The favoured method of those preparing mutton for meals at home is to cook long and slowly allowing the mutton to bring out all of its distinctive, delightful flavour. If you would like to know more about how to cook mutton take a look at latest recipes from Farmison & Co's own highly rated chef Jeff Baker. And if you would like to give it a try -