Day 16 – Offering Something Different – mutterings about Mutton!

One of our unique selling points when comparing us to supermarkets and other butchers shops in the area is that we sell mutton.

Our definition of Mutton is that it’s meat from a female sheep that is 2 years or older, and as long as it’s properly fattened and well hung it offers a delicious and cost effective alternative to lamb or beef. Mutton has a lovely dark red colour and is great for those that enjoy a slightly richer, gamey flavour. For centuries it was mutton rather than lamb that was sold – hence many pubs being called “the Shoulder of Mutton,” but after the war and with food shortages, it made more sense for farmers to sell the quicker reared lambs and use the ewes to continue breeding.

We first started selling mutton in 2004, when we were approached by a young couple opening a restaurant in Newcastle, focusing on using the cheaper cuts to make comfort food popular again.  Bill Oldfield also soon started snapping it up for his restaurant on Claypath.  Coincidentally the then Prince Charles was also at the forefront of the “Mutton Renaissance Campaign”, in support of finding alternative incomes for hill farmers.  The Prince declared it to be his favourite meat.

Mark had tasted and helped to butcher mutton whilst working on farms in New Zealand, where it is still the farmers’ choice. There he remembers having mutton heart on Fridays, mutton chops on Saturdays, roast mutton on Sunday, cold mutton on Monday and mutton stew on Tuesdays and I’m not sure whether he would have agreed with Prince Charles at that time!

Naturally, adding value to what would otherwise be a “cull ewe” appealled to Mark and so we tested the market and haven’t looked back, selling 2 ewes a week through the Farm Shop.  We have had lots of other chefs come through the farm shop doors over the years from the Hobbs House Bakery brothers, Anthony Brown, Tom Jackson (Finbarrs) and Ruari MacKay who ran the Coffee Shop kitchen before opening Coarse in Durham and more recently Nick Rapson (MasterChef finalist), but it’s our regular customers that buy the bulk of this meat.  Increasingly people have tasted it on holiday in Greece, Asia or North Africa  – mutton is perfect for curries and tagines and slow cooked roasts – and want to recreate that holiday meal at home.  In addition we are fortunate to have many customers who originate from these countries and want to carry on using mutton in their cooking here.  We have learned so much from these customers and have picked up some delicious recipes along the way.

These days it’s less unusual to see mutton on restaurant menus, as chefs strive to be different. I really enjoy recommending recipes to customers that are trying to cook a specific joint for the first time, and equally enjoy it when customers come up to me with a recipe I must try!

“My manner of living is plain, and I do not mean to be put out of it. A glass of wine and a bit of mutton are always ready.”

— George Washington (1723-1799)