What Is Mutton
Understanding The History
Sheep farming experts generally agree that mutton refers to meat from sheep that are over two years old (lamb meat is generally from animals that have been reared for five months). Traditionalists argue that mutton is always the meat from a wether (a wether is a castrated male sheep; it is thought that castration improves the taste of some meats). A more contemporary view is that mutton comes from a breeding ewe that has reached the end of its productive life. According to William Kitchiner in The Housekeeper’s Oracle (1817), the finest mutton came from a five-year-old wether.
Until this year, there were no industry-wide standards for meat sold as mutton. New guidelines drawn up by Mutton Renaissance aim to ensure that mutton is consistently of the quality expected by chefs and home-cooks. The standards specify that sheep must be over two years old, and that animals must have a forage-based diet (for example, grass, heather and root crops). Sheep meeting the Mutton Renaissance standard should have a given amount of fat cover, and be matured (for example by hanging) for at least two weeks. Mutton producers must be able to provide full traceability records showing where an animal is reared, its breed and age at slaughter.
Although mutton can be available all year, the best meat is produced from October to March. This is because the sheep have access to nutritious summer and autumn grass and heather, and are able to put on fat before being slaughtered. Towards the end of the mutton season, animals are fed on root crops and silage to ensure they reach the standards required by the Mutton Renaissance.
Hebridean, Herdwick, Romney, Shetland, Southdown and Welsh Mountain are just some breeds of sheep with an historical reputation for producing delicious mutton.