Lamb and mutton
A sheep in its first year is called a lamb, and its meat is also called lamb. The meat of a juvenile sheep older than one year is hogget; outside North America this is also a term for the living animal. The meat of an adult sheep is mutton, a term only used for the meat, not the living animals. The term mutton is sometimes used to refer to goat meat in the Indian subcontinent.
Lamb is the most expensive of the three types, and in recent decades sheep meat is increasingly only retailed as "lamb", sometimes stretching the accepted distinctions given above. The stronger-tasting mutton is now hard to find in many areas, despite the efforts of the Mutton Renaissance Campaign in the UK. In Australia, the term prime lamb is often used to refer to lambs raised for meat. Other languages, for example French and Italian, make similar, or even more detailed, distinctions between sheep meat by age and sometimes by gender, though these languages do not use different words to refer to the animal and its meat.
Classifications and nomenclature
The definitions for lamb, hogget and mutton vary considerably between countries. Younger lambs are smaller and more tender. Mutton is meat from a sheep over two years old, and has less tender flesh. In general, the darker the colour, the older the animal. Baby lamb meat will be pale pink, while regular lamb is pinkish-red.
- Lamb — a young sheep under 12 months of age which does not have any permanent incisor teeth in wear. (Note that the Australian definition requires 0 permanent incisors, whereas the New Zealand definition allows 0 incisors 'in wear'.)
- Hogget — A term for a sheep of either sex having no more than two permanent incisors in wear, or its meat. Still common in farming usage, it is now rare as a domestic or retail term for the meat. Much of the "lamb" sold in the UK is "hogget" to an Antipodean farmer.
- Mutton — a female (ewe) or castrated male (wether) sheep having more than two permanent incisors in wear.
Under current federal regulations (2014 CFR §65.190), only the term 'lamb' is used:
- Lamb — ovine animals of any age, including ewes and rams
The terms 'mutton' and 'hogget' are rare  in the United States. Nevertheless, the exclusive use of 'lamb' in the United States may be confusing, particularly if it is assumed that only actual lambs are butchered for their meat. Under the previous definition (2010 CFR §65.190), 'lamb' meant 'meat, other than mutton (or yearling mutton), produced from sheep'.
The term "mutton" is applied to goat meat in most of these countries, and the goat population has been rising. For example, mutton-curry is always made from goat meat. It is estimated that over one-third of the goat population is slaughtered every year and sold as mutton. The husbanded sheep population in India and South Asian countries has been in decline for over 40 years and has survived at marginal levels in mountainous regions, based on wild-sheep breeds, and mainly for wool production.
- Milk-fed lamb — meat from an unweaned lamb, typically 4–6 weeks old and weighing 5.5 to 8 kg; this is almost unavailable in countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, where it is considered uneconomic. The flavour and texture of milk-fed lamb when grilled (such as the tiny lamb chops known as chuletillas in Spain) or roasted (lechazo asado or cordero lechal asado) is generally thought to be finer than that of older lamb, and fetches higher prices. The areas in northern Spain where this can be found include Asturias, Cantabria, Castile and León, and La Rioja. Milk-fed lambs (and kids) are especially prized for Easter in Greece, when they are roasted on a spit.
- Young lamb — a milk-fed lamb between six and eight weeks old
- Spring lamb — a milk-fed lamb, usually three to five months old, born in late winter or early spring and sold usually before 1 July (in the northern hemisphere).
- Sucker lambs — a term used in Australia — includes young milk-fed lambs, as well as slightly older lambs up to about seven months of age which are also still dependent on their mothers for milk. Carcases from these lambs usually weigh between 14 and 30 kg. Older weaned lambs which have not yet matured to become mutton are known as old-season lambs.
- Lamb — a young sheep that is less than one year old
- Yearling lamb — a young sheep between 12 and 24 months old
- Saltbush mutton – a term used in Australia for the meat of mature Merinos which have been allowed to graze on atriplex plants
- Salt marsh lamb (also known as 'saltmarsh lamb' or by its French name, agneau de pré-salé) is the meat of sheep which graze on salt marsh in coastal estuaries that are washed by the tides and support a range of salt-tolerant grasses and herbs, such as samphire, sparta grass, sorrel and sea lavender. Depending on where the salt marsh is located, the nature of the plants may be subtly different. Salt marsh lamb has long been appreciated in France and is growing in popularity in the United Kingdom. Places where salt marsh lamb are reared in the UK include Harlech and the Gower Peninsula in Wales, the Somerset Levels and Morecambe Bay.
- Saltgrass Lamb – A term used to describe a type of lamb exclusive to Flinders Island (Tasmania). The pastures on the island have a relatively high salt content, leading to a flavor and texture similar to saltmarsh lamb.
Butchery and cookery
The meat of a lamb is taken from the animal between one month and one year old, with a carcase (carcass in American English) weight of between 5.5 and 30 kilograms (12 and 65 lbs). This meat generally is more tender than that from older sheep and appears more often on tables in some Western countries. Hogget and mutton have a stronger flavour than lamb because they contain a higher concentration of species-characteristic fatty acids and are preferred by some. Mutton and hogget also tend to be tougher than lamb (because of connective tissue maturation) and are therefore better suited to casserole-style cooking, as in Lancashire hotpot, for example.
Lamb is often sorted into three kinds of meat: forequarter, loin, and hindquarter. The forequarter includes the neck, shoulder, front legs, and the ribs up to the shoulder blade. The hindquarter includes the rear legs and hip. The loin includes the ribs between the two.
Lamb chops are cut from the rib, loin, and shoulder areas. The rib chops include a rib bone; the loin chops include only a chine bone. Shoulder chops are usually considered inferior to loin chops; both kinds of chops are usually grilled. Breast of lamb (baby chops) can be cooked in an oven.
Forequarter meat of sheep, as of other mammals, includes more connective tissue than some other cuts, and, if not from a young lamb, is best cooked slowly using either a moist method, such as braising or stewing, or by slow roasting or American barbecuing. It is, in some countries, sold already chopped or diced.
Lamb shank definitions vary, but generally include:
- Lamb shank is cut from the arm of shoulder, contains leg bone and part of round shoulder bone, and is covered by a thin layer of fat and fell (a thin, paper-like covering).
- Lamb shank is a cut of meat from the upper part of the leg.
Thin strips of fatty mutton can be cut into a substitute for bacon called macon.
Lamb tongue is popular in Middle Eastern cuisine both as a cold cut and in preparations like stews.
Approximate zones of the usual UK cuts of lamb:
- Scrag end (of neck)
- Middle neck
- Best End (of neck)
- Chump (and chump chops)
- Leg (gigot in Scotland)
US and Ireland
- Square cut shoulder – shoulder roast, shoulder chops and arm chops
- Rack – rib chops and riblets, rib roast
- Loin – loin chops or roast
- Leg – sirloin chops, leg roast (leg of lamb)
- Shanks (fore or hind)
Meat from sheep features prominently in several cuisines of the Mediterranean, for example in Greece, where it is an integral component of many meals, including religious feasts such as Easter (see avgolemono, magiritsa); Turkey, in North Africa, the Middle East, in Jordan, Pakistan and Afghanistan; in the Basque culture, both in the Basque country of Europe and in the shepherding areas of the Western United States. In Northern Europe, mutton and lamb feature in many traditional dishes, including those of Iceland and of the United Kingdom, particularly in the western and northern uplands, Scotland and Wales. Mutton used to be an important part of Hungarian cuisine due to strong pastoral traditions but began to be increasingly looked down on with the spread of urbanisation. It is also very popular in Australia. Lamb and mutton are very popular in Central Asia and in certain parts of China, where other red meats may be eschewed for religious or economic reasons. Barbecued mutton is also a specialty in some areas of the United States (chiefly Owensboro, Kentucky) and Canada. However, meat from sheep is generally consumed far less in North America than in many European, Central American and Asian cuisines; for example, average per capita consumption of lamb in the United States is only 400 grams/year, with half the population never having tried it.
In Australia, the leg of lamb roast is considered to be the national dish. Commonly served on a Sunday or any other special occasion, it can be done in a kettle BBQ or a conventional oven. Typical preparation involves covering the leg of lamb with butter and rosemary sprigs pushed inside incisions cut in the leg, and rosemary leaves sprinkled on top. The lamb is then roasted for two hours at 180 °C (360 °F) and typically served with carrots and potato (also roasted), green vegetables and gravy.
In Indonesia, lamb is popularly served as lamb satay and lamb curry. Both dishes are cooked with various spices from the islands, and served with either rice or lontong. A version of lamb and bamboo shoot curry is the specialty of Minang cuisine, although similar dish could also be found in Thai cuisine.
In Mexico, lamb is the meat of choice for the popular barbacoa dish, in which the lamb is roasted or steamed wrapped in maguey leaves underground. In Medieval India: the armies, unable to cook elaborate meals, would prepare a one-pot dish where they cooked rice with mutton. This dish led to the famous Biryani.
In Japan, although lamb is not traditionally consumed in most of the country, on the Northern island of Hokkaido and North-eastern Tohoku regions, a hot pot dish called Jingisukan (i.e. "Ghengis Khan") is popular. In that dish, thin-sliced lamb is cooked over a convex skillet alongside various vegetables and mushrooms in front of the diners, then dipped in soy-sauce based dipping sauces and eaten. It was so named because lamb was thought to be popular in Mongolia.
Lamb's liver, known as lamb's fry in New Zealand and Australia, is eaten in many countries. It is the most common form of offal eaten in the UK, traditionally used in the family favourite (and pub grub staple) of liver with onions and/or bacon and mashed potatoes. - and along with the lungs and heart (the pluck), is a major ingredient in the traditional Scottish dish of haggis.
Lamb testicles, also known as lamb's fries (a term also used for other lamb offal), is another delicacy.
Lamb kidneys are found in many cuisines across Europe and the Middle East, often split into two halves and grilled (on kebabs in the Middle East), or sautéed in a sauce. They are generally the most highly regarded of all kidneys.
Sheep meat production
The table below gives a sample of producing nations, but many other significant producers in the 50-120 KT range are not given.
Source: Helgi Library, World Bank, FAOSTAT
- K.F. Warner, "Boning Lamb Cuts", Leaflet 74, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Animal Industry, June 1931. full text
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Read 5th point
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- Code of Federal Regulations 7:XI:1280.111
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- Sheep Meat Production | 12 February 2014
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