As a nation we have a great history of producing fine wool, but the invention of modern synthetic fibres in the 1960s led to a sad and rather rapid decline in wool’s use and value – after thousands of years of farming heritage and craftsmanship. There was a sharp 40% drop in wool prices in 1966 alone. As a result, farmers who kept sheep into their relative old age to produce wool – and finally mutton – found themselves with flocks that were in danger of becoming surplus to requirements. And so the trend towards eating lamb began.
We work with three different types of sheep, so that we have a supply of fresh, excellent quality and naturally reared lamb throughout the year. By that last point, we mean we stay within the confines of the seasons and of natural breeding patterns, in order to put as little stress and unnatural pressure on the animals as possible. As ruminants their diet consists almost entirely of grass and herbage, supplemented with stubble turnips, which they enjoy in winter, and fodderbeet for the ewes when they’re in lactation.
The type of lamb we have in the shops depends on what time of year it is. From January to Easter we have fantastic hogget from our Blackface sheep, which is absolutely packed with flavour. It should be cooked fairly low and slow and stands up well to robust ingredients like rosemary, garlic and anchovies. Easter signals the start of spring lamb, and ours is from Dorset sheep. Early spring lamb has a uniquely delicate flavour, as it is largely fed on mothers’ milk and will only nibble at a little hay. It pairs beautifully with the lighter vegetables of spring; delicate fresh peas, English asparagus, watercress, ramsons and purple sprouting broccoli. From late summer we’re onto the Mules, which have good flavour thanks to a summer of grazing on rich heather moorland.
While mutton went out of favour and has started to come back in again, it’s not a particularly common thing for us to have in the shops – we probably only kill two or three bodies a week. Although meat is technically considered mutton at two years old, it is at its best – absolutely packed with flavour, though needs very slow cooking – when it comes from cull ewes which are between 4-7 years old; the male is far too tough by this age.