Today at the Rhug Estate, Lord Newborough, hosted the first ever NSA Regional Event ‘Make More of Mutton’.
Lord Newborough, welcomed those present and gave a short presentation, you too can read see his presentation here.
In welcoming the visitors, Lord Newborough stressed the importance of ‘telling the story’ of meat. The mutton sold at the Rhug is solely from their own flock, slaughtered in mid-Wales, hung, butchered and packed on the estate, so they can control the quality from the live animal to the consumer.
Welsh mutton had a long and excellent reputation for quality according to Bob Kennard, NSA’s ‘Make More of Mutton’ Manager. Praise for the flavour and overall eating quality of Welsh mutton dates back to at least the 16th Century, and he included a description by 19th century travel writer George Borrow who wrote “Let anyone who wishes to eat leg of mutton in perfection go to Wales”.
Nigel Elgar, currently a farm advisor in Wales produced Welsh upland sheep specifically for the quality mutton market in Montgomeryshire for almost 20 years. He said how important it was to separate quality mutton animals from the standard cull ewes, which meant farming them specifically for the purpose, ensuring continuity of supply, and producing to the quality which the specific supply chain required.
Gary Jones, Production Manager at Rhug Estate, explained how they changed and adapted their products in the light of their customers’ reactions and opinions. For slow cooking joints of the best quality mutton, the butchery practices seam cutting, which means isolating individual muscle blocks from the leg in particular, which ensures a consistent cut of meat which cooks evenly. Such joints are also ideal for smaller families, and easy to cook for 2 or 3 people. The Rhug butchery is assessing the optimum period of dry-aging of mutton to maximise flavour and texture.
A problem in marketing quality mutton seems to be a psychological barrier some people have to buying the meat said Jon Edwards, Managing Director of Rhug Estate Farm Shop. Many of his customers said they didn’t like the idea of eating mutton but most had never tried it, and were invariably pleasantly surprised when they tasted a sample.
The final stage along the quality mutton supply chain is the cooking. Chef/Patron of the Wynnstay Arms in Machynlleth and Master Chef of Great Britain, Gareth Johns, is a self-confessed fan of quality Welsh mutton in particular, and has been cooking it for over 20 years. He emphasised the importance of ensuring quality all along the supply chain. He said mutton should be considered a completely separate meat to lamb, as both its flavour, texture and cooking requirements are different.
There followed a mutton buffet, prepared by the resident Rhug chefs, showcasing the great versatility of the meat.
Phil Stocker, Chief Executive of the NSA said afterwards ““It is said that back in Victorian times, mutton was a more popular meat than beef. We are not thinking that we will ever return to anything near that, but there is no doubt in my mind that quality mutton has the potential to add more value and increase interest in the product. Today’s event highlighted the need to finish mutton ewes to a high standard, hang and butcher them correctly and produce a final product in line with those that present the product well. Of course cooking it right is essential too.”