Difference Between Lamb and Mutton
You might be thinking that lamb and mutton are just different names for the same thing because they are both domestic sheep. While that seems to make sense, it isn’t entirely correct. They have distinct differences, mainly in their age. As you probably know, the age of an animal can affect the flavor and how tender the meat is. And that, in turn, affects how you prepare that meat.
Lamb is a sheep that is typically less than 1 year old. There is little fat on lamb, and the meat can vary in color from a tender pink to a pale red. Lamb less than 3 months of age is called spring lamb. Spring lamb is extremely tender but has a milder flavor than lamb. Most sheep meat sold in the United States comes from lambs simply because mutton doesn’t have much of a following in the U.S.
The word lamb comes from the German lambiz. As early as 10,000 years ago in Central Asia, man discovered that the sheep was a good source of not only food but clothing. Sheep (Ovis aries) have long been a dietary staple as well as a textile source in Asia, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.
The Middle Ages
In the Middle Ages, farmers learned that sheep were the most productive crop, providing meat, wool for clothing, skins for parchment, and milk for butter and cheese. Sheep provide an amazing myriad of products in the 21st century. The first sheep were brought to North America by Spanish soldiers under the command of Cortez in 1519. The introduction of sheep into the commercial cattle herds of the western territories in the 1800s caused much bloodshed and social division. Perhaps this bad reputation is one reason why lamb did not make it as a mainstay of the American palate. In the early 1900s, the federal government actually sanctioned the genocide of certain varieties of sheep in a purported attempt to upgrade the quality of certain breeds.
One of the Oldest Breeds
The Cotswold, one of the oldest breeds, was introduced to England over 2000 years ago by the Romans. Brought to the United States in 1832, the Cotswold was also the first purebred breed to be registered in the United States in 1878. This breed is now currently classified as a rare breed and is prized for its wool. Lamb also has religious connotations. Lambs were ritually used as sacrifices in many different religions to all varieties of gods and are still a favorite menu item for Easter and many other holidays.
Mutton is meat from a sheep that is older than 1 year, ideally 3 years old. It is an intense red color and contains a considerable amount of fat. Its flavor is very strong, and you might have to acquire the taste before being able to enjoy a meal of mutton if you’re an American.
Mutton is much more popular in the Middle East and Europe than in the United States. The gamey flavor of mutton does tend to appeal more to people who also enjoy other game meats such as deer, wild boar, and rabbit.
Common Cuts of Lamb
Because Americans prefer the more delicate taste of lamb, it is more expensive than mutton and much easier to find in regular markets. Common cuts in the U.S. are shoulder roast, rack, loin chops, and leg of lamb.
It’s also important to note that domestic lamb tends to be grain fed, contains more fat, and has a delicate flavor. Imported lamb, typically from Australia or New Zealand, tends to be grass fed and leaner, with a stronger flavor.