Don’t be fooled into buying the pale spring lamb that fills supermarket shelves as the daffodils tentatively raise their yellow heads, the “finest lamb in the world”- according to top Launceston butchers Philip Warren & Son – is actually mid-June to the end of August. And comes from Cornwall.
British Easter lamb is the meat of animals born in October/November, reared almost exclusively and intensively indoors and let out to graze for just a couple of weeks before they become spring-time chops. The result is a meat with all the texture but none of that distinctive tangy depth of summer lamb that stands up so well to robust flavours such as rosemary or curry spices.
Cornish summer lambs are predominantly moorland-reared and have a more developed taste that comes from eating the summer grass and herbage of the moors; the meat is considered superior to the milky taste of ‘spring’ lambs or ‘suck’ lambs, almost entirely reared on their mother’s milk.
Some of the best restaurants in London won’t accept any other kind of lamb, and us locals, owing to a lack of demand and knowledge, lose out on enjoying a highly seasonal quality product to the more well-informed up country.
Philip recommends a slow-roast shoulder of Cornish lamb as the best for value and flavour which works out at half the price of a leg at just £10 – £12: “Ask any butcher to take the blade out and leave in the front leg bone, which gives you a square piece of meat. It’s easy to carve and stays lovely and crisp on the outside but moist in the middle.” A bit of loving care and you have more taste for less money and in our recession-strapped times, it’s knowledge worth sharing.
The strong flavour of lamb makes it ideal summer barbecuing fodder, so if the weather holds, try some spicy lamb burgers, kebabs or steaks. Some of the more unusual and cheaper cuts such as breast or neck can be delicious with a little cooking know-how, as well as being a great back-up should the weather prove fickle.
Breast is so seriously underused that it is often discarded and very very cheap, but the combination of ribs, muscle and fat, make a delicious slow cooked meal; neck provides a cheaper and equally tasty alternative to the more expensive shanks and can be casseroled or stewed until meltingly tender. Hogget (a one year old) and mutton are both excellent undervalued meats from older animals, both deservedly featuring more and more on restaurant menus.
As Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said in his tome, Meat: “the only person who is going to make any significant difference to the way meat is produced, sold and cooked, is you the consumer.” Eating meat ethically and responsibly is not only treating animals with respect but makes big economic sense. It’s time that we made our own meat decisions, rather than let the supermarkets do it for us, oh, and try your local butchers – they sell meat ‘n’ everything.