Shetland sheep & hogget/mutton

DSC02049 (Sheep trio)

Shetland Mutton (including Merguez Sausages) in Spring 2017

I keep Shetland sheep for a number of reasons, including, but not limited to:

  • the supreme quality and taste of the meat
  • their ability to thrive on ‘unimproved pasture
  • their ruggedness and strong natural mothering instincts
  • unlike other breeds, no need to ‘dock’ tails as a precaution against ‘fly-strike’

For details of this versatile breed see the Shetland Sheep Society.

As a slower-maturing breed, I offer ‘hogget’ (animals in their second year) instead of lamb, as well as mutton: ‘one of the finest meats produced on the British Isles‘! – see below for why this is a supreme meat! As a ‘primitive’ breed of sheep, the cuts/joints are smaller than the larger commercial breeds – but if you tend to value quality over quantity you will not be put out by that. Roasting joints are suited to family meals rather than catering for a large dinner party; a slow-roasted and flavoursome leg of hogget or mutton, though, can feed 6 or more people easily, with some left over for later!

Shetland Hogget – ‘cook it as lamb – it has a little more flavour’

Hogget meat is from animals killed in their second year, as opposed to lamb, which is killed in its first year (although it is not unknown for meat marketed as ‘lamb’ to have been killed in its second year). The meat is still relatively tender and ‘sweet’, although with a little more flavour than lamb. With a primitive breed such as Shetlands, the extra year means that the carcass size provides more meat than a Shetland lamb would – this is particularly true as my sheep are pasture-fed (with additional haylage/hay in winter) rather than fattened with ‘concentrates’ in their first year in order to be sold as lamb. Being pasture-fed, the meat develops a healthier balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats than occurs with concentrate-fed animals. These are not as big as commercial breeds that are fattened for the mainstream market, and some joints are suitable for small family meals.

Prices (per Kg and for a typical sized cut/pack) of available cuts/packs are listed in the table below (Hogget & Mutton).

Cut/Pack£/KgTypical Cut/Pack Price
Loin Chops17.99£11.00
Half Shoulder (on Bone)11.99£14.50
Whole Shoulder (on Bone)11.99£29.50
Half Leg (on Bone)15.99£12.00

Why eat mutton?

First of all you must recognise that the associations with the word ‘mutton’ that you are likely to carry around with you are misleading and must be jettisoned – phrases such as ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ and childhood memories of tough school meals amount to slander on what was historically ‘the meat of kings’. The Victorians cherished mutton, and were skilled in the slow-cooking techniques that make the most of the meat’s qualities. When and where did it go wrong? Changes to the economics of rearing sheep due to the collapse in wool prices (favouring the eating of lamb) and the development of a fast-food culture during the last century led to an erosion of the skills of preparing and cooking mutton – certainly in mainstream culture. Properly cooked mutton became a well-kept secret. Now that is changing.

Britain’s discovery of a gastronomic confidence, and in particular the popularity of TV programmes about cooking and rise of the ‘master chef’, have led to a rediscovery of well produced and appropriately cooked mutton – it is part of a revival of interest in our food heritage, as typified by the Slow Food movement. As a Guardian newspaper food critic has pointed out, mutton is It is ideally suited to slower cooking, in traditional dishes such as Lancashire Hotpot or slow-roast leg of mutton, as well as more exotic alternatives such as curries and tagines. Chops and cutlets do not necessarily need to be slow-cooked, but there are some lovely recipes out there such as braised mutton chops with cider and root vegetables.

Mutton Renaissance has more details about mutton, including some interesting recipes.

I have just come across the Electric Scotland website, which has a wealth of material on cooking mutton.

Even with rare breed pork and Dexter Beef in the freezer – when we are looking for something a bit special we go for a slow-roast/braised in red wine leg of mutton – once you have tried it you will realise why!

Why eat Shetland mutton?

Bear in mind all of the above about the supreme eating experience that is properly cooked mutton, and throw into the mix the special qualities of Shetland meat: aside from its outstanding flavour, it is less fatty than modern commercial breeds, with a finer texture.


Coming soon.

More recipes

The BBC has a range of recipes for mince, including Shepherds Pie, Moussaka and Kebabs.

And more from Delicious Magazine.

Here is a short youtube video of a slow roast whole leg of Scotch Blackface mutton (10 hours at 100C, followed by browning off at 240C).

Rack of mutton with red onion compote – from the Scotsman.

A range of recipes for Scotch Blackface mutton that would work equally well with Shetland mutton.

Recipes for mutton loin chops from Jamie Oliver forum – we usually just season and throw them on the bbq  – mouth-wateringly delicious!