In my opinion (I’m Tony, the butcher), lamb for Easter is all wrong. While “spring lamb” has undoubted marketing appeal for supermarkets, spring is when lambs are meant to be born. So what are you eating? In fact, when you buy “spring lamb,” you get animals that were born in the autumn, specifically for the Easter market. Mostly they are reared indoors, with their mothers, who often continue to suckle them until they reach slaughter weight. Ewes and lambs will be turned out on spring grass in early March, but they’ll get only a couple of weeks to graze before they go to slaughter. The resulting meat, known in the trade as “suck lamb,” is sweet but pale and, I think, a bit porky.
So should we never eat lamb at Easter? I often eat sheep—either mutton (an animal of two years or more) or, best of all for flavour and tenderness, hogget (a one-year-old in its second spring or summer). Both mutton and hogget animals should have a good covering of fat, which means they can be hung properly— 10-14 days is about right—after which they end up even more tender than lamb, and can be served pink. A few good butchers will sell you mutton and hogget, and both are available here at Church Farm or from our online shop.
So when is the best time to eat lamb, in the true sense of the word? During the summer months, in my opinion. February-and March-born lambs (look out for bottle feeding at the Farm soon) are invariably put out to graze within a few weeks of being born, and learn to eat grass, as well as their mother’s milk, before they are a month old. They exercise far more than indoor-reared lambs, which gives their meat a finer grain and more flavour. Slaughtered in the coming weeks, at five or six months old, their meat is still sweet, but much more rosy and vivacious. This is the flesh of animals that, though young, have lived a little, with grass under their feet and sun on their back.