When I was a kid (back before they invented the wheel), lamb was a seasonal treat. It was available only in the spring. The rest of the year, we ate mutton; meat from “more experienced” sheep.
The advent of flash freezing and refrigerated shipping changed lamb from a seasonal treat to something we are accustomed to seeing on our grocers’ shelves year-round. With this change, mutton fell from favour. It is now rarely seen in grocery stores or at butcher shops. Many cooks believe we are the poorer for it.
Shepherd’s pie, Irish stew, kofta curry, and moussaka were all originally made with mutton. Mutton’s deeper colour, firm texture, and stronger flavour helped it to stand up to long cooking. It was well able to hold its own with other strong flavours and with aggressive seasoning.
We are fortunate here to have a number of sheep farms close at hand. The rocky terrain of our gulf islands is not suited to raising cattle, but is an excellent environment in which to raise sheep. Despite this, we rarely see local lamb or mutton in our butcher shops.
I’ll continue to enjoy roast lamb for Easter dinner but I’m on a quest to find a local farm from which I can purchase mutton. I’m going to revisit my recipes with this meat as the main ingredient, and learn once again to cook with its deeper flavour. I’m looking forward to it.