A guide to how and where to buy quality mutton in the UK and beyond
The Much Ado About Mutton Directory of Suppliers
There is a good selection of quality mutton suppliers in the UK, and elsewhere. So, how do you go about selecting and buying mutton?
Just as wine drinkers have a choice of grape varieties and terroirs which add to the pleasures of tasting different wines, so with mutton. There is much interest and enjoyment to be had from comparing the differences in flavour and texture of the meat reared in different environments, the breeds of sheep, and the periods of hanging.
This is the largest and most comprehensive and up to date directory of mutton suppliers.
However, there are other producer/suppliers and independent butchers who offer mutton and who are not yet included. If you are a producer and/or retailer of quality mutton, let us know for possible inclusion in the directory. If you are a mutton eater, and know of a good supplier who is not in the directory, again, let us know.
At present we only cover the UK. If you are outside the UK, and want to be included, we would be delighted to have quality mutton suppliers from elsewhere in the world. Please let us know.
The directory is as accurate as possible, and is based on information given by the individual suppliers. Despite many enquiries, it has not been possible to identify any mutton suppliers based in Northern Ireland, although most mainland producers will deliver there. If you know of a Northern Ireland supplier of quality mutton, do let us know.
Factors to consider in Choosing Mutton
Divided geographically, the directory gives information about the main aspects of producing mutton, giving you the tools to select. Each producer is listed in the directory under the following headings for you to consider:
Age at slaughter
The accepted minimum age for mutton is two years. Below this it is strictly speaking known as hogget or shearling, which produces meat with a flavour less complex than that of mutton. With correct handling, mutton up to 6 or 7 years old can be remarkably tender and flavoursome.
The suppliers were asked how long they hang their mutton. This varies between 7 and over 21 days. Some will hang to order. By trying different hanging periods, you should be able to establish the period which you find the most delicious.
The list includes a number who have won recognised awards for the quality of their mutton.
Some producers have mutton only at certain times of the year, others have year-round availability.
Types of Outlets
The outlets listed vary from village shops, to butchers, farm shops, farmers markets and mail order.
Cuts or Boxes
There are two ways to buy mutton, either by individual cuts (leg, mince, etc.) or by selection boxes, which usually represent a half or whole animal. Many of the suppliers listed can butcher to your specific requirements.
Most suppliers sell animals from their own farm. The others will know where the mutton was reared. How much does location of rearing affect the taste? You can try for yourself.
The Organic system of farming uses minimal routine drugs and other chemicals and operates to very high animal welfare standards. There is good evidence that the effect of Organic farming on the environment and wildlife is better than an intensive farming system. Each Organic farm is thoroughly inspected at least annually to ensure it maintains the legally defined Organic standards. Importantly in Organic sheep farming, some chemicals are not allowed for routine dipping, and all drug use at least doubles the legal period between dosing and slaughtering. All Organic food is certified by a number of UK bodies, including the Soil Association, Organic Farmers and Growers, Scottish Organic Producers Association and Quality Welsh Food Certification. It must also display the EU organic logo (pictured).
The Victorians considered some breeds superior to others in the quality of mutton which they produced. Generally, Hill & Mountain breeds, Down breeds, and Primitive island breeds were considered to be superior. The book contains a full directory of sheep breeds, with indications of what the Victorians considered to be the best for mutton.
Ewes or Wethers
Most mutton available today is from ewes. However, there are a few producers who can supply wether mutton. Another interesting point of comparison.