A somewhat forgotten British delicacy, this April we look at the benefits of eating the more mature relative of the beloved spring lamb.
Renowned world-wide as producing some of the finest lamb, British farmers have been working tirelessly since the beginning of the year, preparing for an extremely busy lambing period.
As a symbol of a changing season – from the harsh weather of winter, to the lighter evenings and warmer climes of spring – there has long been a strong association with eating lamb this time of year. Lamb continues to be the most popular choice of meat over the Easter period, however, awareness of it sourcing often falls by the wayside.
With the traditional lambing season only just drawing to a close, and with Easter the first weekend in April, we all run the risk of eating imported varieties – but lucky for us, British farmers have caught onto the commercial demand at this time of year.
In an attempt to ensure the people continue to buy British, a small number of farmers are rearing their flock so that lambing falls in the milder autumn months, ensuring the meat is at its optimum when lamb is in greatest demand.
However, with the majority of farmers sticking to the traditional farming calendar, British lamb meat can be difficult to get hold of. But this doesn’t mean this deliciously succulent, sweet meat is off the menu this time of year – the answer lies in its more mature relative, the hogget.
Referred to as juvenile sheep aged between 12 and 18 months, hogget is the sustainable and financially frugal alternative to eating imported lamb. Using indigenous breeds that are slower maturing allows the development of a fuller flavour, as the sheep openly graze on lush vegetation throughout the summer and well into the autumn and winter months.
Rearing until they are juveniles additionally encourages sustainable pasture management – farming that promotes the continued use of diverse fertiliser-free grasslands. Allowing sheep to feed off their rich natural environment of heather, herbs and cloves results in an intensely complex flavoured and nutritious meat. As a protein rich meat, the result is a much leaner, healthier option, full of rejuvenating qualities not always found in its younger relative.
Grazing these pastures for an extended period of time also helps to the hogget’s meat to develop a much finer grain with a distinctly firmer texture. This make this flavoursome meat perfect for ‘low and slow’ cooking methods, with greater versatility when it comes to enhancing with robust flavours.
Less delicate than lamb, hogget’s darker, richer meat handles more dominant ingredients, working perfectly with hardy herbs and spices similar to those used to enhance the even older-aged mutton. Hogget however, still has beautifully sweet undertones that should be encouraged, not overwhelmed. White wine, garlic and rosemary are all classic combinations that offers the meat intensity of flavour as well as maintaining its moist, natural aromas.
Although it won’t be long before succulent British spring lamb is in abundance once again, for the time being hogget is the perfect option. With this patient and nurtured rearing of British sheep brings greater maturity in terms of flavour and texture – just as delectable as spring lamb – as well as supporting the sustainable farming of this brilliant British breed.
Words by Helen Upshall