Ceres recently visited a Mutton Workshop hosted by The Guild of Food Writers and Pasture For Life. As well as tasting a variety of breeds and learning about the history of the meat, the challenges of marketing mutton to consumers due to negative pre-conceptions were also discussed. By the end of the evening however it was clear that there was more to mutton than meets the eye and it was time to re-think the meat.
Mutton – A History
The evening opened with a talk from Bob Kennard, author of Much Ado About Mutton. Bob explained that in the 1800s mutton was more popular than beef, but today the majority of consumers have negative pre-conceptions of the meat – namely that it is of a lesser quality texture and taste. It became apparent that mutton is a British icon which has very nearly disappeared.
It was then time to taste the meat and chef and food writer Christopher Trotter had prepared three breeds. The first was a Black Welsh Mountain from Abergavenny; a breed renowned for producing premium meat and farmed sustainably on land which farmer Nick Miller said was never ploughed or saw fertiliser. The second was a Shetland from Berkshire, farmed by Dan Bull organically and the third was an Easycare from Herefordshire, which had never had wormers or antibiotics.
One very valid and interesting comparison made by Nick Miller was between mutton and wine. He argued that the location sheep are bred is similar to the origin of a wine, and the time it takes to breed mutton comparable to that it takes to mature wine. Nick posed the very valid question; why can consumers appreciate the time and origin of one and not the other?
Throughout the tasting guests were encouraged to share descriptions of the flavours of the meat. From gamey to grassy, smoky to sweet, the words shared showcased not only the quality, but also variety of flavours on show and highlighted the impact the location sheep are bred can have on taste. The feedback was entirely positive and many in the audience were pleased to have had negative preconceptions of the meat dispelled.
Mutton - What Lies Ahead?
Ultimately the evening was not only a lesson in mutton, but also in marketing and the need to change consumer perception of the meat. It proved the positive impact that putting a product in front of consumers for them to taste, a tangible backstory and genuine passion, can have on changing perception and it became clear the time is undoubtedly ripe for more to be made of mutton… a thoroughly unappreciated meat.