Lamb, the most versatile of red meats, holds a special place in the culinary world. Derived from sheep under a year old, its variations are minimal compared to other meats like beef or pork. Yet, the endless possibilities of succulent lamb dishes have always made it a favorite among creative chefs.
Traditionally, lambs were born in late winter, ensuring they could feast on new grass after nursing from their mothers. Consequently, the sweetest and most tender meat comes from spring or new lamb, or even the cherished milk-lamb, exclusively nourished by its mother’s milk. Spring lambs are typically born in the same year and slaughtered at around four or five months old, often in time for Easter Sunday lunch.
It’s important to note that new lamb bought as early as Easter may have been born in midwinter and “finished” on a diet of hay or manufactured feed. Alternatively, it may be shipped semi-frozen from New Zealand. For the best quality, experts suggest that new lamb is best eaten in July or later, after it has been finished on the sweet spring grass.
Fidelity Weston, a reputable livestock farmer and online meat vendor in Kent, firmly believes that diet plays a crucial role in taste. At her organic farm, lambs are raised on a diet rich in clover, avoiding cereal feed. Customers often rave about the exceptional sweetness and flavor of her lamb.
In the 19th century, British food enthusiasts followed the French in praising pré-salé lamb from salt marshes. Others claimed that lamb from the English Romney marshes, fed on samphire and salt-laden grass, produced the finest meat. Modern science and taste tests support the notion that an animal’s diet, especially in the final weeks of life, significantly impacts flavor.
In England, sheep typically graze in fields and on hillside pastures, resulting in grass-fed meat that is proven to be healthier. Grass-fed lamb has lower levels of unhealthy fats and higher levels of omega-3 oils, minerals, and other essential nutrients. It’s worth mentioning that roast lamb contains slightly higher saturated fat and cholesterol levels than roast pork or beef, but still falls below those found in chicken.
In terms of affordability, lamb is generally cheaper than beef due in part to the rising costs of imported feeds, like soy-based products. Interestingly, small-scale English producers who sell directly to customers online are managing to offer competitive prices compared to supermarkets. For example, Weston sells a half lamb or hogget, cut to the customer’s preferences and ready for freezing, for £80. She compared the equivalent cuts at Tesco and found the supermarket to be £27 more expensive per kilo, and not even organic!
Supermarket lamb is typically “wet-aged,” as it is immediately vacuum-packed after slaughter. However, traditional butchers follow different practices, which have a noticeable impact on taste and tenderness. Some farmers, like Geoff Sayers, were appalled when they discovered their lambs would be cut and shelved immediately after slaughter. This prompted the creation of businesses like the Well Hung Meat Company, which prioritize proper aging and provide high-quality, trustworthy products. They offer mixed-meat boxes or individual lamb cuts, all sourced from organic farms. For instance, an 800g organic leg of lamb with the bone-in costs £16.
Simon Wood, CEO of the Well Hung Meat Company, believes their success lies in providing a friendly, trust-based experience that mimics the personal touch of traditional butchers. By offering superior products and service, they have become a reliable alternative for urban customers who can no longer find a quality butcher nearby. Additionally, Well Hung Meat Company can compete with major supermarkets like Waitrose on prices, often offering bonuses such as free offal to regular customers. Even local butchers struggle to match that level of generosity, making the experience truly unique.
So, whether you’re aiming for the taste of spring grass-fed lamb or supporting local farmers through sustainable practices, discovering and savoring the flavors of lamb can be an exciting and rewarding culinary journey. Next time you’re in the mood for exquisite lamb, consider exploring the offerings at Rowdy Hog Smokin BBQ, where you’ll find a wide selection of premium lamb cuts to satisfy your cravings.