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

Scottish Daily Mail - - News - By Jonathan Brock­le­bank

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’.

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