Mutton back on menu
It was seen as peasant food but ‘old season lamb’ is set for comeback at some of country’s top restaurants
GROANING with fine dining experiences, it is one of Scotland’s top gastro-tourism destinations.
But are the high-end restaurants on the Isle of Skye about to start serving mutton dressed as ‘old season’ lamb?
Research is under way into the potential for pushing mutton at Skye’s restaurants and cafés and establishing it as a local delicacy.
Mutton – the meat from a sheep which is more than two years old – is less tender and cheaper than lamb and was traditionally considered peasant food.
But a group of Skye sheep farmers, chefs and restaurant owners is now seeking to reverse the slow decline in the island’s sheep numbers by making them more profitable.
The group, led by SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), is asking restaurateurs if they think there is a demand for Isle of Skye mutton or old season lamb – 12 to 24 months old – on the island.
A study is also being carried out into what diners think of the meat, which rarely appears on restaurant menus today.
In a separate survey, Skye sheep producers are being asked if they would be interested in supplying mutton, and if they would have any concerns about doing so.
Skye-based SRUC consultant Janette Sutherland said: ‘Lamb is obviously a hugely popular dish, whereas mutton is considered an older delicacy. We are keen to gain a better understanding of the appetite for mutton with a view to revitalising the industry on Skye.’
The results of the survey will be revealed at a gastronomic event, Skye on a Plate, at the Sligachan Hotel on November 22, at which mutton canapés will be on offer along with a slow-cooked Skye mutton main dish.
David Michie, head of farming at Soil Association Scotland, said: ‘Some of the best ideas in farming come from farmers themselves, but farmers don’t always have the time to step back and figure out how to make them happen.’
Skye is home to some of Scotland’s most raved-about restaurants.
Chef Michael Smith’s Loch Bay restaurant in Stein, on the Waternish peninsula, has a Michelin star and a mention in the 2018 guide. The eatery is in a converted croft house.
Kinloch Lodge, in Sleat, meanwhile, held a Michelin star for seven years, but The Three Chimneys on the seashore of Loch Dunvegan is perhaps the most celebrated of all.
It opened in 1985, has regularly appeared in the Michelin Guide, and is said to have led the way in establishing Skye as a centre of gastro-tourism.
The Skye farmers and foodies may well find royal approval for their mutton revival bid. Prince Charles tried to revive interest in the meat back in 2004, arguing slow-cooked mutton was the perfect antidote to Britain’s fast food culture.
He told a ‘Mutton Renaissance’ luncheon at the Ritz Hotel in London: ‘I know from the large numbers of people who watch the cooking programmes on television that there are some who truly care about how they prepare and cook their food.’
For them, he said, slow-cooked mutton offered ‘a whole new culinary treat in store’.