Hear from our Health and Education Manager, Alix, who shares some great insights on all things lamb.
Why we Eat Lamb for Easter
Like many, my plans for catching up with friends and family this Easter are on hold and it’s going to be a different type of occasion again this year. There is one feature that will remain unchanged for our family and for many across Scotland, the roast lamb Easter Lunch.
Before investigating the why’s of lamb for Easter, we must firstly understand the term ‘lamb’ and find out a bit more about sheep meat. Personally, I’ve never understood the reasoning behind the naming of this meat, after all cattle meat is called beef and pig meat pork – so why not have a generic name for sheep meat?
When I’m working in schools, I am often faced with the common misconception that when we eat lamb it’s the meat from new-born lambs. This is not the case. On average, lambs are around 5 – 9 months old and around 40kg in weight when they are sold compared to around 4 – 6kg when they are born.
Sheep meat can actually be split into three categories – lamb (up to 12 months); hogget (12-24 months), and mutton (24 months+). At this time of year hogget is in season in Scotland, and an excellent alternative if lamb isn’t available – hogget is often described as a farmer’s favourite type of sheep meat. And then there’s mutton which has been seeing something of a revival in recent years thanks to chefs like Gary Rhodes and Matt Tebbutt.
Why Lamb for Easter?
So, considering the information above, we know we don’t have lamb for Easter in the UK for its seasonality, why is it so popular at Easter time then?
The most likely reason is that it’s symbolic. The roast lamb meal has its roots in the early traditions of the Jewish festival of Passover – a spring festival in which the Passover Lamb is killed. For Christians, the lamb is more a representation of Jesus sacrificing himself and dying on the cross – Jesus being “the lamb of God”. It is likely that Christians traditionally ate lamb at Easter to remember this sacrifice and this tradition has stuck.
Know Your Cuts
As well as there being different types of sheep meat, there are also a variety of cuts which differ in flavour and benefit from different cooking techniques. For me, a traditional leg of Scotch Lamb PGI is hard to beat but my family’s favourites at the moment are the Scotch Lamb Tzatziki Pitta and Minted Lamb Burgers (both ideal for anyone braving a BBQ Easter Feast!).
A Wooly Issue
Nowadays the main reason sheep farmers keep sheep is for their meat, but this was not always the case – for many early sheep farmers, meat was simply a by-product. The main reasons to keep sheep was to harvest their wool to create felt and fabric. In today’s fast-fashion culture the use of wool has sadly declined and this year on our farm we stored our wool rather than sell it as the price offered to us was so low. As a material it is hard to beat – breathable, natural, sustainable and biodegradable – but that’s for a future blog!
The Scotch Difference
I have to say that I am a proud producer of Scotch Lamb and I am keen that consumers know that not all meat is created equally. As sheep farmers we undergo an annual independent inspection to ensure that we meet the strict criteria set by Quality Meat Scotland which allows us to sell our meat with the iconic Scotch Lamb PGI brand.
The inspection includes checking for good animal welfare, traceability, safe farming practices and ensuring the lambs have been born and reared in Scotland and spent their entire life on a quality assured farm.
As well as the assurance standards, Scotland is a naturally good place for producing Scotch Lamb – the topography and climate are perfect for sheep which often live in places that are too steep or inaccessible for growing crops, fruits or vegetables.
It’s worth checking the label carefully to find out where the lamb has come from. At this time of year New Zealand lamb is often shipped in to help meet demand. This meat may have travelled over 8000 miles and New Zealand sheep farmers don’t adhere to the same assurance standards as Scotch Lamb producers.
So, if you are planning to serve sheep meat this Easter consider the age, the cut, the country of origin and the assurance scheme in which it has been produced to ensure that your Easter meal is local, sustainable, and of course, delicious!
Blog by Alix Ritchie, Health & Education Manager, Quality Meat Scotland.