Buyers Guide to Lamb
British lamb is available all year round. Most baby lambs are born in spring and are ready for the food chain around six months later – meaning autumn is the time when British, grass-fed lamb is most plentiful. However, some producers make sure their lambs are born earlier so they are ready for the table at Easter. These lambs will still have spent most of their life on pasture but are likely to have also received a little bit of extra feed, due to grass not being quite as plentiful at that time of year. Another option at Easter are lambs born the previous spring, which will have taken a little longer to reach the supply chain, because of their breed or the farming system. These lambs (referred to within the industry as ‘old season’, or ‘hogget’) will be nearly 12 months old and have a slightly different flavour to ‘new season’ lambs, due to their age and breeding. The meat will also be a little less pink.
If you buy your lamb from a butcher or farm shop, ask them about the provenance and age of your lamb – they will enjoy the opportunity to tell you more. If you buy your lamb from a supermarket, the important thing is to make sure it’s British! Look for the Red Tractor logo*. This guarantees that it was produced in the UK, and also ensures top standards of traceability, food safety and hygiene, animal welfare and environmental protection.
Mutton is also available all year round. This is meat from older sheep – typically ewes (female sheep) that no longer produce lambs each spring and so are ready for the food chain instead. Mutton provides a rich, complex flavour and is quite different to lamb. If you’ve never tried it, you’re missing out!
The beauty of sheep meat is that the age (lamb, hogget or mutton), the breed (we have more than 100 different breeds and crossbreeds farmed in the UK) and the countryside (grassland, heather, saltmarsh, mountain) all influences the flavour of the meat. So does the different cut (chop, leg, shoulder) and cooking style (roast, slow cooking, curry). There is no such thing as ‘just lamb’ and so much enjoyment to be had if you explore the whole range of flavours. The British Heritage Sheep scheme explores this concept further.
But whichever you choose, you can be safe in the knowledge it will be entirely or mostly grass-fed, reared in harmony with nature and kept to high animal welfare standards. The UK climate (perfect for growing grass), the long heritage of sheep farming (thousands of years) and our legislative framework (stricter than almost anywhere else in the world) guarantees it.
*As well as the Red Tractor logo, other UK assurance schemes include Scotch Lamb, Farm Assured Welsh Livestock, Quality Standard English Lamb, Northern Ireland Lamb Farm Quality Assurance Scheme and Soil Association Organic. Look out for the various logos to give extra guarantees about the standards to which the product was reared, transported and processed.