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Farm Direct are working with some farmers I wholly admire. Nicola and Toby Bulgin have been taking a totally modern approach to organic farming since taking over Brook Hall Farm in Essex more than 10 years ago. Recognising the important balance between acting as nature’s guardians and providing a quality product they’ve been breeding French sheep from Cahors, which have been flourishing and are able to breed all year round.

When I was young we only ever had Spring Lamb as a special treat and it was always a scrag end (neck) of mutton that kept us sustained in the pot on the stove. But mutton went out of fashion in the 1970s with the aggressive marketing of cheap imported  New Zealand Lamb. But it’s worth buying and cooking. It’s really just lamb that’s a bit older, but has richer flavours and stronger taste and requires long slow cooking. Lots of people find sheep fat hard to digest, so whatever you need to cook it long and slow. The best way for a stew (and if you have time) is to put the whole joint in water and simmer for a couple of hours, letting it cool and then skimming off the fat. Then you add the seasoning and vegetables. I often simmer it in something like dark beer which brings loads of flavour to the dish. Then just leave well alone. As many hours as it needs; so that the meat is falling apart.

If you want to slow roast mutton, the shoulder is a good joint but you need to trim away some of the fat to begin with. Cut incisions long-ways all over the joint. In a pestle and mortar crush some spices such as cumin and fennel seeds with paprika. Add cloves of garlic, a few salted anchovies, the grated zest and juice of half a lemon, a splash of soy sauce and olive oil, tomato purée and pound to a paste. Insert this mixture into deep incisions cut long-ways into the meat. Place the mutton in roasting dish on a bed of sliced fennel. Then coat the outside of the flesh with the rest of the paste. Pour some white wine into the bottom of the dish. Roast in a hot oven initially until nicely browned, cover then turn down heat. Keep topping up liquid in the bottom (water and wine) to keep it constantly moist and cook long and slow for several hours (or more) until tender.  You can also put some potatoes in with the fennel, so when it’s ready you have an entire meal ready to serve at the table, with bread, something green like Kale or Brussels Sprouts tops and more wine.


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