Daffodils bobbing about in the breeze and lambs frolicking in lush green fields are both images that are synonymous with spring. But if the lambs are in the fields at this time of year what is the new season ‘Spring Lamb’ that is widely promoted in the run up to Easter?
This meat is from lambs which have actually been born in late autumn or early winter and more often than not they will have been kept indoors for most, if not all of their lives. Most sheep do not naturally lamb in the autumn so they are either given hormones or subjected to artificial lighting regimes to trick them into breeding at the wrong time of year. They are bred especially for the lucrative Easter market and producers can charge a premium price for what is essentially intensively reared lamb. Instead of being weaned onto grass, the lambs are fed a special concentrated cereal feed which accelerates their growth and this means that, despite the marketing claims to the contrary, this lamb tends to be lacking in flavour.
However, it’s not all marketing hype as there are some rare breed sheep that do naturally lamb in the autumn and genuinely are ready for the spring. These are mainly from farms in the south of England where the winters are milder and consequently they can remain outside and have access to grass. The original breed of autumn lambing sheep are called Dorset Horns, although nowadays Dorset Polls are more commonplace – these sheep are basically hornless versions of the Dorset Horns, the word Poll means hornless. The hornless breed was developed as the long curly horns were found to be something of a liability!
Confusingly, ‘Spring Lamb’ is also the term for the meat from lambs which are born in the spring although it is not actually available until the summer. By this time they will have been weaned off their mother’s milk, naturally and gradually fattened on a diet of grass and they will have been allowed to run around outside in the fields. Five or six month old lambs produce meat that is tender and has a far superior flavour to the intensively reared meat generally available at Easter.
Lamb is traditionally served at Easter in many parts of the world and it is particularly revered in Greece where it plays a main role in their Easter rituals and whole spit roasted lambs are frequently served at their Easter celebrations. But if you don’t want to pay a premium for ‘Spring Lamb’, apart from meat from Dorset Horns or Polls, what is the alternative for Easter? Some of the lambs born in the spring escape the summer slaughter and are allowed to mature into one year old lambs, known as Hoggets. Not only is this meat a lot cheaper than ‘Spring Lamb’ it also has a fuller flavour and whilst it won’t be as tender as the younger lamb, slow roasting produces a succulent joint which would be ideal for Easter Sunday lunch.
Click on the link to see a recipe for rack of lamb.