Information about Sheepy, Lamb and Mutton
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Lamb and Mutton

Part 1: Spanish soldiers brought lamb to North America
Aaaah...lamb. Such a delectable taste for so humble a creature. Lamb is a very versatile meat and readily available at local markets. Yet surprisingly, lamb is not a big favorite in America (only one pound per person in 1992). Perhaps a little history and information will explain why.

Lamb history
The word lamb comes from the German lambiz. As early as 10,000 years ago in Central Asia, man discovered that the sheep was a good source of not only food, but clothing. Sheep (Ovis aries) have long been a dietary staple as well as a textile source in Asia, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. In the Middle Ages, farmers learned that sheep was the most productive crop, providing meat, wool for clothing, skins for parchment, and milk for butter and cheese. Sheep provide an amazing myriad of products in the 21st century.

The first sheep were brought to North America by Spanish soldiers under the command of Cortez in 1519. The introduction of sheep into the commercial cattle herds of the western territories in the 1800s caused much bloodshed and social division. Perhaps this bad reputation is one reason why lamb didn't make it as a mainstay of the American palate. In the early 1900s, the federal government actually sanctioned genocide of certain varieties of sheep in a purported attempt to upgrade the quality of certain breeds. The Cotswold, one of the oldest breeds, was introduced to England over 2000 years ago by the Romans. Brought to the United States in 1832, the Cotswold was also the first purebred breed to be registered in the United States in 1878. This breed is now currently classified as a rare breed and is prized for its wool.

Lamb also has religious connotations. Lambs were ritually used as sacrifices in many different religions to all varieties of gods, and is still a favorite menu item at Easter.

Part 2: Getting rid of lamb's gamey smell

Lamb or mutton?
Lamb is a sheep less than a year old, typically slaughtered between the  ages of four and twelve months. Older sheep is called mutton and has a much stronger flavor and tougher meat that many find distasteful. Mutton was a cheap food source for the military, and it was often overcooked and dry. Many American servicemen had their fill of mutton, coming home to declare it off-limits in the family home. This may be another reason why lamb hasn't become more popular in the States.

The finest lamb
Lamb connoisseurs consider lamb prι-salι to be the finest in the world. The French term means "salty field," and is applied to lamb that graze on meadowlands on the salty shores of Brittany and Normandy. The grass that thrives on the salty land gives the lamb meat a delicate flavor. The most reknowned area for this lamb is near Mont-St.-Michel in France. You might want to question the chef if you find prι-salι lamb on the menu in the United States, as there is a good chance it is not authentic.

What are the lamb "fell?" and "musk" glands?
The outer fat of lamb has a thin, papery covering called the fell. Some cooks like to remove the fell, claiming it adds a strong flavor. However, it does help in holding the shape of the leg together while roasting, as well as retention of juices and flavor. On larger cuts, I haven't noticed enough difference in flavor to warrant the extra work. On small cuts, you may wish to remove the fell before cooking.

The shoulders and leg joints may also still have the musk glands attached, if not removed by your butcher. These are large yellowish pieces that you might find unsightly. They are called musk glands because it was formerly thought they gave a musky off-flavor to the meat. This has been proved untrue, but you may wish to remove them for the sake of aesthetics. Most butchers removed the musk glands before marketing.

Part 3: Selecting the right lamb grade and cut

Lamb selection and storage
Color is a good indicator of age. The lighter the color, the younger the meat. Baby lamb should be pale pink. Regular lamb is pinkish-red. Ground lamb and small lamb cuts should be wrapped and refrigerated up to three days. Larger roasts can be refrigerated up to five days before using. Ground lamb can be tightly wrapped and frozen up to three months, while larger roasts and solid pieces can be frozen up to six months. Plan ahead: frozen lamb should be thawed in the refrigerator, not at room temperature. Cooked lamb can be refrigerated up to three days or frozen up to three months. One 6-pound leg of lamb will serve between 6 and 8 people.

Lamb grades and cuts
The United States recognizes three categories of lamb, all based on age. Mutton, due to its age, is generally not considered "lamb," but is included in the chart here.

U.S. government regulations require that spring lamb be slaughtered between the beginning of March and the close of the week containing the first Monday in October. It is the most popular variety in America. Although American consumption of lamb pales in comparison to other countries, the U.S. does not produce enough lamb to satisfy consumer demand. Much of the lamb sold in the U.S. is shipped in frozen from New Zealand. Australia is another major exporter of lamb. American lamb is generally milder in flavor, since the sheep are grain-fed rather than permitted to free-range graze. The U.S. cuts are also generally larger and meatier.

The U.S. government further grades lamb based on the proportion of fat to lean meat. Prime is the top grade, followed in order by Choice, Good, Utility, and Cull grades.

US Lamb Grades

  • Baby Lamb: Milk-fed lambs slaughtered at between 6 and 8 weeks of age. (Also known as hothouse lamb)
  • Spring Lamb: Milk-fed lamb between 3 and 5 months of age.
  • Lamb: Weaned on grass and under one year of age.
  • Mutton: Sheep over 1 year of age, typically slaughtered by 2 years of age as a food source.

Lamb Cuts


Less Tender

  • Rib
    Roasts (rib, rack, crown)
    Chops (rib, Frenched rib)
  • Loin
    Roasts (loin, double loin)
    Chops (loin, kidney or English)
  • Leg
    Leg of lamb or mutton
    Leg chop or steak
    Cubes for kebabs
  • Neck
    Neck slices
  • Shoulder
    Roasts (rolled, cushion, square shoulder)
    Chops (blade, arm)
    Stew lamb or mutton
    Ground lamb or mutton
  • Breast
    Roasts for stuffing
    Riblets (stew lamb or mutton)
  • Shank
    Lamb or mutton shanks


Lamb Recipes

From basic roasted leg of lamb to exotic dishes, your cooking options abound. Lamb shanks, a relatively inexpensive cut, cooks up heavenly in the crockpot. Many folks serve lamb with mint jelly, an old custom originally used to disguise the strong flavor of mutton. Aficionados prefer a more savory mint sauce (also available bottled and usually imported from England) rather than the overly-sweet mint jelly. Please do not overcook that beautiful tender lamb roast! Cook it to a rosy-pink, medium-rare doneness, and you will be thankful. As with any recipe, feel free to modify it to meet the needs and tastes of your own family.

Lamb Recipes  (All the following recipes can be found at About.Com)
•  Amaretto Almond Encrusted Lamb
•  Ballymaloe Irish Stew
•  Braised Lamb Shanks with Sour Cream and Capers
•  County Cork Irish Stew
•  Cranberry Orange Lamb Chops
Crockpot Irish Stew
•  Gyro Omelet
•  Irish Stew Recipes
•  Irish Lamb Stew
•  James Beard's Irish Stew
•  Lamb with Black Olive and Anchovy Sauce
•  Lamb Chops in Hazelnut Crust with Rosemary Cream
•  Lamb Cutlets In Aromatic Coffee Sauce
•  Lamb Loin Wrapped in Puff Pastry
•  Lamb and Olive Balls
•  Lamb in Saffron & Cardamom Cream
•  Lamb Sausage with Red Cabbage
•  Lamb Shanks with Eggplant and Thyme
•  Lamb Shanks with Portobello Mushrooms and Dried Cranberries
•  Lamb Sirloin with Lentils
•  Lamb Stew With Chestnuts And Pomegranates
•  Lamb Stew with Rosemary
•  Leg of Lamb Stuffed with Roasted Garlic, Feta, and Basil Leaves
•  Moussaka
Mint Sauce for Lamb
•  Mutton Recipes
•  Pomegranate Lamb
•  Pomegranate Lamb Kabobs
•  Savory Mint Sauce for Lamb or Mutton
•  Scotch Broth
•  Sesame Lamb Meatballs
•  Shepherd's Pie
•  Sunflower Seed-Crusted Lamb Loin
•  Sweet Potato, Lamb, and Sausage Stew
•  Tongue With Juniper Berry Sauce
•  Turkish Braised Lamb Shanks with Roasted Plums
•  Turkish Lamb Burgers in Pita Bread
•  Warm Lamb Salad with Peppers & Feta Cheese
Weight Watcher's Irish Stew





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