There are three different ages of sheep that end up on our plate: lamb, hogget and mutton. The wide variety of breeds of sheep used in British farming – and the more natural nature of sheep rearing – means the meat tends to vary in taste and texture. And this is a great thing, because it truly means it’s a product of the landscape it was reared in.
So, how do you ensure you’re buying the best lamb from your butcher?
Getting the best-quality lamb: what to ask your butcher
1. HOW WAS IT FARMED?
Sheep are traditionally grazed on land that doesn’t have much other agricultural use – such as poor quality hillsides.
They also fatten up nicely by simply foraging in fields. This means it makes economic sense to allow them to roam free. You’re looking for a lamb raised like this.
2. WAS IT CORN FED AND IF SO HOW MUCH OF ITS DIET WAS CORN?
A rising number of farmers are turning to corn to fatten up their sheep in time for the Easter lamb market.
A high-protein diet changes the texture and cooking quality – lamb shouldn’t be super lean. It’s also uncomfortable for any animal to grow unnaturally quickly.
WHAT IS MUTTON?
We predominantly eat lamb in the UK, which is a sheep between five to 14 months old that hasn’t given birth.
But hogget can be delicious, too. At 15 or 16 months old the lamb will erupt two dominant teeth in its bottom jaw, that’s a true hogget. Black Welsh Lamb is an organic farm that specialises in hogget meat.
It’s increasingly popular in restaurants and is very similar to lamb, with a slightly deeper taste and finer grain.
What is mutton? A sheep that’s two years old or above, again offering a deeper flavour.
3. WAS IT STUNNED AT SLAUGHTER?
Compassion in World Farming has calculated that a staggering 3.5 million sheep and goats are subject to non-stunned slaughter in the UK annually.
Main image: Daylesford Kerry Hill sheep