Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Easter and the “spring lamb” culinary connection

Easter is just around the corner and is traditionally a time when people get together with family and friends to enjoy a roast dinner. A leg of lamb will be the centrepiece of the meal in many households, having become as much of a central part of the Easter festivities as hot cross buns or Easter eggs.

However, despite "spring lamb" being a seasonal favourite, the term can still cause confusion among consumers, many of whom don’t understand the relationship between the lambs they see gambolling in the fields at this time of year and what they eat for their Easter lunch.

Lamb in this country is predominantly a seasonal product, with the majority of ewes being tupped (put to the ram) in early Autumn and their lambs arriving from February onwards, giving the ewes the opportunity to graze fresh, spring grass while the lambs are suckling. This lamb won’t be found in shops until May onwards, when it’s described as “new season lamb”.

However, there are plenty of exceptions to this rule, with certain breeds, such as the Charollais, lambing earlier than the peak lambing period, while the Poll Dorset breed is naturally predisposed to breeding all year round.

There is also significant geographical variation in the lambing season, with, for example, Poll Dorset lambs from the South West, which has a milder climate and a longer grazing season, being some of the first new season lamb to appear in the shops, usually in time for Easter. As the spring season progresses, new season lamb from more northern parts of the country can be found on sale. Likewise, lowland farmers market their new season lamb earlier than their hill farming counterparts.

This sort of pattern isn't unusual in nature, with daffodils from the Scilly Isles, for example, available in the shops as early as January, a couple of months earlier than when you would expect to see them bloom elsewhere in the country.

The Easter culinary connection with spring lamb certainly has benefits for our sheep industry, however on the flip side it generates a peak in demand at a time when our new season lamb supply is only just getting going. While lamb early in the season commands a premium due to its delicate flavour and succulent, tender texture, lamb that’s marketed later in the season tends to have a fuller flavour, providing a different, but equally tasty, proposition for consumers.

A key objective for our marketing team is to create sustainable demand for lamb, bringing it on to our family menu all year round. As part of this brief they will shortly be implementing new plans around making lamb an 'adventurous meat', capitalising on lamb’s popularity around the world as a meat that works well with rich flavours.

In the meantime, if you are planning on tucking into a roast dinner this Easter, why not get some inspiration from our latest Simply magazine, which includes a range of delicious lamb (and beef!) recipes.