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This weeks Epicurean Concept is relatively simple, but one that we were curious about and so thought maybe others were as well. Often at restaurants I’ll see lamb dishes on the menu, but other times mutton dishes. I wondered if there was really a difference or if it was a restaurant’s way of dressing up or down a dish through verbal trickery. Answer after the jump.

It’s actually not (or at least shouldn’t be) verbal trickery on the part of the restaurant.


Lamb is a sheep less than one year old, typically slaughtered between the ages of four and twelve months. This meat is more pinkish in color and has a large amount of white fat surrounding the meat. The lamb should have a firm texture, but still be tender.

Mutton is any sheep that’s older than one year…. or to be really precise it’s a “a female (ewe) or castrated male (wether) sheep having more than two permanent incisors in wear” (wikipedia). The older meat of mutton can be a bit gamier and tougher if not prepared correctly, hence the limited usage of it in the states. Mutton is undergoing a huge comeback as of late though (as are most cheaper / forgotten meats these days).

Hogget is another variety you might hear about. Hogget is sometimes used interchangeably for Mutton but it’s slightly different – “a young male sheep or maiden ewe having no more than two permanent incisors in wear” (again Wikipedia).

Careful in the US though. Any sheep under two years of age can be legally labeled and sold as lamb. So that could also account for someone tasting lamb and finding it too gamey…maybe it is, or maybe they were slipped some 23 month old “lamb” meat.

So there you go. If you dislike the gamier (sometimes it reminds me of bleu cheese) taste of Mutton, maybe look for lamb. These days chef’s are doing some creative things with mutton and I think it’s worth the risk if you see it on a menu…they know the negative associations folks have with the meat these days, so to include it on a menu says they think it’s worth it (or are getting it cheap)


Lisa the Vegetarian

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