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Flocking to an old faithful - The Age Epicure

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05-Oct-2010 Succulent meat from mature sheep is making a comeback, Richard Cornish reports...

Mutton has a bad reputation. It is thought of as second-class meat: old, tired and smelly. In the hands of a half-decent cook, however, it becomes a super-succulent dish. Mutton was part of our old wool-based economy.
After the nation had finished riding on the sheep's back, we ate them. A lot of them. The New Standard Cookery Book of 1933 has 30 mutton recipes but just nine for lamb. The mutton recipes are for hearty stews and braises, while the lamb recipes are mainly grilled prime cuts such as chops and cutlets.
 Mutton has a well-developed flavour with a darker meat, perfect for slow cooking, where the long, low heat breaks down the flesh and gives juicy results. Chefs are beginning to understand the powerful punch of flavour mutton can give and it is becoming piping-hot property again. Although most of the sheep meat we eat is lamb, we have never lost the taste for mutton. Mutton is used extensively in the production of the classic  Four'N'Twenty Pie.
It gives the flavour of the filling that extra lift, something you don't get from ground beef. Dim sims - not the little ones on offer at Chinese restaurants - are made from mutton. Mutton is the meat from a sheep older than two years.Names for sheep meat changes as the animal gets older. Milk-fed lamb refers to young lambs still drinking from their mums.
Prime lamb is from animals aged about four months to six months. When a lamb grows its next set of incisor teeth, at about 12 months, the animal is called a hogget. A year later, when it grows another set of teeth, it's called a four tooth and its meat is mutton.
Rokewood farmer Kylie Walton knows a thing or two about mutton. She and husband Paul raise 20,000 sheep a year on their farm, west of Geelong, and sell meat under the label Wurrook Superfine Prime. You won't see the word "mutton" on any of their labels. "We're mutton and proud of it," Walton says.
"But we're more than mutton. There's no standards for mutton. Mutton can be up to seven years old, of any breed or stock handling. We, however, treat our sheep with respect.
“Two-year-old merino sheep, raised for their super-fine wool, are "finished" for two weeks. They spend their days grazing and, in the afternoon, are mustered into the old shearing shed where they fatten up on grains.
The meat is sold at selected supermarkets and farmers' markets in easy-to-cook cuts such as trimmed ribs, rolled shoulder, easy-carve legs, mini roasts, backstraps and excellent gourmet sausages.
 Chef Jake Nicholson, of Circa at the Prince, uses the Wurrook shoulder in one of the restaurant's signature dishes.Part of the shoulder is slow-cooked sous-vide with garlic, thyme, rosemary and olive oil at 63 degrees for 48 hours until it is super-soft and succulent.
It is finished in a hot pan and served with skordalia, brocolinni, red capsicum, black olives and toasted breadcrumbs.
 Chef Paul Wilson has a mutton pudding. It's a meaty navarin of mutton in a sticky sauce made with cooked-down onions and red wine, and then encased in a steamed suet and bone-marrow pastry.
 The operation at Sandy Leatham's farm in the Strathbogie Ranges is a little more low-key. She runs a small flock of sheep on her 250-hectare farm and processes just five a week. She sells most of the meat at farmers' markets.
The most exciting part of her business happens in the kitchen, out the back of her heritage butcher's shop. There, she and her crew make pies, 30 different mutton sausages, terrines and potted mutton, among other dishes.
Leatham (right) describes one of her favourite ways of cooking shoulder of mutton. Incisions are made in the forequarter with a sharp knife and anchovies and garlic are poked into these.
A little extra virgin olive oil is massaged over the flesh, which is sprinkled with sea salt and placed on a tray into a scorching hot oven. With the skin nicely browned, the heat is turned down and the forequarter slowly roasted for three hours. The fat is removed, a little red wine added, reduced, seasoned, mounted with butter to thicken it and served with loads of fresh beans.  

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Flocking to an old faithful - The Age Epicure

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"Wurrook Superfine Prime has a distinct delicate taste with fine and tender flesh.  The flavour is quite unique and lends itself to Mediterranean and moorish flavours. Texturally it has a superior grain which enhances moistness."
Peter McLeod 
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Mt Edgecombe Hotel

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