Umami, with an almost gamey flavor, complex and rich; mutton has a softer flavor than I anticipated.

muttonfrenchI’ve read about mutton as a mainstay in early traditional diets. In various stories and readings, mutton was the meat for the common man. There is some disagreement on what actually constituted “mutton” from a traditional viewpoint. Some historical writings suggest that mutton was a title reserved for castrated male sheep that had reached 5 years or older. There are other records that suggest that “mutton” represented ewes, female sheep, past their breeding prime.  Today’s mutton, however, is from sheep that has typically reached about two years of age and been raised in a natural lifestyle on a natural diet.

I was intrigued but also a little squeamish to try mutton for the first time but I'd also read some very good information about the benefits of mutton. I am an omnivore, so my diet does include meat, but I’m also very committed to traditional and sustainable forms of animal husbandry. This makes eating meat a little bit trickier, especially in the U.S. The mutton I prepared for today’s flavor came from locally grown sheep in Wiltshire, U.K.  The area is riddled with sheep ranging over the pastureland, grazing happily on grasses, nettles and other wild growing plants. I went to the local butcher and inquired about mutton, he let me know that within a day or two he would some in his shop; and when I checked back, sure enough, mutton. Now, let’s be clear, the laws around the raising, butchering, transporting, and sell of meat tend to be kind of ridiculous in both European countries and the U.S. They are definitely not laws that are in favor of the small, local, producers, and conscious animal husbandry, so I feel committed to supporting them.

muttonlegFrom a culinary perspective, mutton is best served up seasonally, from the months October to March. It is a type of meat that lends itself well to being slow cooked and/or added to soups and stews. This particular meal was slow cooked with garlic, olive oil and a few other herbs. It was tender and flavorful.

From a health perspective, mutton is a good source of quality protein. It is also a great source of zinc and iron and B vitamins. Pasture raised sheep and lamb are an amazing source of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), which research demonstrates is a great source of improved immune function and decreased systemic inflammation. Mutton is a great option for quality protein and nutrient density. The only caveat, be sure you know where it comes from....especially in the U.S. Local, sustainable, humane, are the only way to go. Also, typically in Indian and Asian cuisine mutton refers to goat, so you may want to ask questions if you haven’t prepared the mutton yourself.