About two years ago a pair of sheep farming friends of ours, who shall remain nameless but happen to have one of the largest grassfed lamb operations in the state, live about two miles away and are amazing people, knocked on our door one evening. They held up two zip-lock baggies labeled “A” and “B”, asked us to cook up the contents and let them know which we preferred.
Inside each bag, of course, was a small portion of ground meat and while we were pretty sure what our friends were asking, after all we had raised a few lambs ourselves by this point and wondered the same thing, we were more than happy to play along in the hopes of finding the answer. The question they were looking to answer, of course, is rather important on a sheep farm, perhaps even the ultimate question when raising lamb for meat. And, just in case you haven’t already guessed from my title and lead-in, the question is:
Is “lamb” distinguishable from “mutton”? If so, which is honestly (in a blind taste test) preferable?
There. I said it. Mutton! Mutton, mutton, mutton! And let me tell you all, when Gabe and I cooked up our friends’ fresh samples of ground meat, we chose (remember this was a BLIND TASTE TEST) the mutton. The meat was less fatty than its lamb counterpart and had a very mild flavor. Yes, that is right, the mutton was LESS fatty than the lamb sample and had a MILD flavor! These two descriptors go hand-in-hand, of course, as it is the fat in the mutton or lamb that makes for the flavor. The more fat, the stronger the flavor.
Wait, wait, wait, you may be saying right now. Back up a minute. Mutton more mild than lamb? Impossible! Well, if that is your opinion, I have news for you and, if you are willing to keep an open mind (and mouth), you just may be persuaded…
There are a number of reasons why mutton may be found to be more mild or more delicious than lamb…first and foremost, is grass. When animals are fed grass their meat is automatically less fatty and while lambs are grazed alongside their flock elders they are also generally afforded partial, and sometimes unlimited, access to grain. The grain aids in the development of the lamb’s digestive system, provides extra calories needed for rapid growth and (surprise, surprise) puts fat on the animal. An older sheep usually receives far less grain than a lamb, only in and around lambing time on most grassfed operations, and will in turn develop a healthy, lean physique. That said, upon slaughter, an older sheep (to be clear, once an animal reaches 2 years of age it will be classified as “mutton”) frequently has a lower fat content than a lamb and, if properly conditioned on grass, will be quite tasty upon reaching your dinner plate.
Now, if I were to scour the internet on “mutton misconceptions” (or have Gabe put in his two cents right now) this newsletter could go on indefinitely, however as I am going to do neither of the aforementioned, I will conclude with this: Mutton has been unjustly given a bad reputation. JUST TRY IT!!
Sincerely (from a born and raised 31-year-vegetarian who now prefers mutton or lamb to all meat),
Oh, and for those of you out there that do NOT receive lamb in your farm shares, don’t worry you will not have mutton forced on you from now on. Lamb lovers however, your September shares will have your first mutton installment. You have one month to scrounge up some mouth-watering recipes!