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Traditional mutton makes menu inroads - Hospitality Magazine

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MUTTON has always taken a back seat to lamb when it comes to popular spring-time meals, but a number of Australian chefs and suppliers are working hard to get this hearty meat back into kitchens and onto menus.
Kylie Walton, co-owner of Wurrook Superfine Prime in Rokewood, south-west of Melbourne, processes her farm's mutton at about two years old, when they're at their "prime". 
What you'll find with the industry is that you have the categories lamb, hogget and mutton and they've had to generalise it to make it easy. 
So lamb is anything that hasn't cut its teeth and usually under the 12 month mark in age. Therefore lamb is usually processed between six and nine months old compared to our sheep which have their two teeth and are around two year’s old," she says. Walton says any sheep between the age of two and seven years, which is around the time when most sheep die, can be labelled as mutton.
“That's a really wide area, but we are really specific - we are a specific age, specific breed (Superfine Merino) and specifically managed (low stress environment),” says Walton. Unlike other meats, mutton, according to Walton, is not seasonal; however certain cuts do lend themselves to specific styles of cooking. “We offer it consistently, “ she says.
“Our product is in demand consistently throughout the year but there are definitely certain cuts that suit winter and there are certain cuts that are more in demand in summer. In winter it's the shanks and the shoulders and the big legs — they're looking for the roasting cuts.” Matthew Kemp from Sydney's Restaurant Balzac says mutton lends itself to slow braising and confiting. He says the main difference between lamb and mutton is that mutton is a bigger, older animal with a richer flavour and more marbled fat in the flesh. 
Colin Fassnidge from the Four in Hand in Paddington has mutton on the menu from time to time, and at one stage even had an assiette of mutton, where he braised the shoulder, confited the breast and then braised and pan-fried the neck. Pearl barley and other winter vegetables were then cooked in the stock that the meat had been braised in, creating a wintery stew. Wurrook Superfine Prime supplies St Kilda's Circa, The Prince restaurant with its mutton, which is served as a sharing dish for two. Jake Nicholson, head chef, marinates a boneless shoulder with olive oil, garlic and herbs, then cryovacs it and cooks it at 65C for 48 hours. This dish is always on Circa's menu, but Nicholson changes the accompaniments and garnishes to match the seasons.
“Last month we were serving it with brussels sprouts and bacon and also a little gratin of swede and cauliflower on the side, and we're serving the new one with a skordalia, with broccolini, roasted peppers and olives,” he says. Nicholson argues supply isn't an issue for chefs willing to find their own suppliers.
Not only will this help them to find the best quality produce, but they will also learn about the animals and how best to prepare them.
“From my point of view, you really need to be out there looking for and finding your own suppliers,” says Nicholson. “It's important to get out to the markets and see what's around and visit farmer's markets and visit produce awards days.” 
Nicholson makes a point of putting mutton on his menu because he thinks it's important to differentiate it from lamb. “Australians have been sold lamb for such a long time,” he says.
“Even though mutton was and probably still is sold as lamb in our supermarkets, I just think the term ‘mutton’ keeps people away, even though they're probably eating mutton a hell of a lot more than they think. “I won't take it off the menu for a long time. 
"It's something that gets people talking. It's kind of fun when some older people come in and they're trying to convince the younger people to try the mutton and they don't want to, but they try it and they're really quite surprised.”

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