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Fort on Lamb
Spring and New Season's
Lamb is lamb for the first year of its life. Then it becomes hogget in its second year. In its third year, assuming it lasts that long, it becomes and remains mutton. The eating qualities of individual breeds vary considerably, but overall, the older the animal, the stronger and more distinctive the flavour.
Spring lamb and new season’s lamb is not necessarily the same thing. Traditionally, the lamb season does kick off in spring, or even before, in the South West, where lambs fatten up quickly on the lush pastures of Devon and Somerset. Then the season moves gradually northwards through the sheep-producing counties of Britain, finishing in October/November in the far North of Scotland. This pattern has become blurred in recent years as farmers in the Midlands and elsewhere bring on lambing early to take advantage of the demand and premium prices around Easter.
Swaledale or Lancashire Lonk? Welsh Badger-faced or Blue-faced Leicester? Romney Marsh or Devon? The breeds of lamb still currently being bred are a reminder of how regional farming practices used to be. Each breed became specialised around a type of grassland and environment, for wool or meat or both.
These days, almost all lamb is for eating. Those that feed on the richer southern pastures tend to produce a sweet, rich flavour with a softer texture. Hill sheep have to work harder, and so have a more distinctive, herby flavour and a bit more fibrous texture. Some connoisseurs rate the rare breeds, such as Manx Loughtan and Jacob. And at the more rarefied end of the scale there are the sheep of Soay and St Kilda, shoreline foragers which feed on seaweed. They have muscular, small carcasses, very low in fat but with a wonderful gamey, almost minerally flavour.
Article written by Matthew Fort
What it Goes With
Many cuisines have embraced lamb and therefore your options with the meat are plentiful. You could use lamb in a Moroccan style tagine, or, the Turkish way, using a soy-based marinade and served up with flatbreads. Indian chef Vineet Bhatia encrusts a rack of lamb with a mixture of fragrant spices – the wonderful, gamey flavour of lamb is often flattered by strong herbs and spices.
For a lamb dish with a difference, see this Robert Thompson recipe which uses lamb in a carpaccio with shallot mousse, pickled walnuts and quails eggs.
There are simpler ways to prepare lamb. Shepherd's pie is a traditional way to make the most of this phenomenal meat, while roast lamb with seasonal vegetables or lamb with Provençal vegetables are also classics.