A favourite Sunday roast in the UK, lamb is traditionally a spring meat and the go-to choice at Easter. But, as Jamie and Jimmy discover on Friday Night Feast, our appetite for lamb so early in the year causes problems for British farmers. Daniel Nowland, head of Jamie’s Technical Food Team, explains why.
In general, sheep have very natural lives – they thrive in areas where other livestock would struggle to survive, such as hills, mountains and rough terrain. This means they spend lots of time outdoors, which keeps them connected to the seasons and natural cycles of the land.
Sheep are naturally tuned to giving birth in early spring, once the frosty winter has passed and spring’s fresh grass is growing. This gives newborn lambs the best chance of survival and helps get them off to a healthy start. Nature is clever like that!
In terms of what we buy and eat, ‘lamb’ refers to any sheep under a year old. The sweet, tender ‘new-season lamb’ so popular at Easter is four to six months old. So, if sheep are giving birth in early spring, that doesn’t give them much time to mature in time for Easter…
Easter lamb: the challenge
In general, British newborn lambs are only a month or two old at Easter, and not ready for our dinner plates. So where do all our Easter roast lamb joints come from? Retailers are often forced to import lamb from other countries, particularly New Zealand, to meet the demand.
Meanwhile, some British farmers are trying to reduce imports by encouraging sheep reproduction earlier in the year. However, this means these lambs will often be raised indoors instead of on pasture. And newborns can suffer during these cold winter months as they haven’t grown their woolly coats yet.
What to eat and when
If we are happy to wait a few months, the very best British pasture-raised, new-season lamb can be enjoyed in the summer, when it’s more than four months old. It’s a beautiful product, and we should celebrate it!
When it comes to Easter roasts, there are lots of other fantastic British meats we can enjoy. A free-range organic chicken is a wonderful thing, or think about sustainable fish, such as a whole baked bream, showstopping salmon en croûte or roast jamon-wrapped cod.
Hogget and mutton
If you’re really set on lamb, though, think about cooking hogget or mutton at Easter instead. This meat is from sheep over a year old, which are likely to have been born naturally in spring of the previous year.
There is more fat and marbling in hogget and mutton, which brings with it gorgeous, deep flavour – delicious! Roast or slow-cook your meat to keep it lovely and tender, letting the extra fat render down for melt-in-the-mouth results.
Choosing hogget and mutton in the spring is a brilliant way to give our British farmers a helping hand. As well as reducing the food miles of flying in lamb from New Zealand, it also means UK farmers will receive a decent income for all of their animals, including the parent stock, giving them more stability throughout the year. Plus, you may just decide it’s your new meat of choice!
One of Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast campaigns is to spread the word about seasonal, ethical lamb.
They’ve even gone the whole hog(get) and made a sheep farmer’s calendar to help promote year-round lamb. Check it out here!
Watch Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast on Fridays at 8pm, Channel 4.