‘Easter is a terrible time to eat lamb’ – here’s what to cook instead

Roast mutton from Pipers Farm, cooked in hay with roast potatoes, garlic and a green herb sauce – Matt Austin

At Durslade Farm in Bruton, Somerset, head farmer Dan George shows me his sheep. Easter is just around the corner, but there is not a lamb to be seen yet. Have they been sent to the slaughterhouse yet? No, George answers. “They aren’t born until April 1st.” For those shopping at Durslade’s Farm Shop, there is no spring lamb on Sunday.

Not that head butcher Christopher Raymond is concerned: “Autumn is the best time for lamb. Spring lamb is a bit bland. Wonderfully tender, nice and rare, but I like a little more flavor.” Every lamb sold today will be almost a year old, having spent that time eating grass, allowing muscle, fat and ultimately flavor to develop.

Chefs and dinners continue. Mutton and tenderloin – sheep that are between one and two years old at slaughter – are increasingly being served in restaurants, and butchers such as HG Walter in London and Philip Warren in Cornwall have seen a rise in demand.

The meat is praised by chefs for its taste and ethics. At The Little Chartroom in Edinburgh you’ll find mutton with broccoli, turnips and mutton fat, while down the road at The Palmerston there’s a hogget, bacon and suet pie; at Roots in York, roast pork rack. In London, pork loin with black garlic and artichoke paste is on the menu at The Water House Project, while there’s mutton leg at Lyle’s and pork shoulder at Manteca.

The Palmerston's hogget, bacon and suet pieThe Palmerston's hogget, bacon and suet pie

The Palmerston’s hogget, bacon and suet pie

But when it comes to certain foods, the British are stuck. We must have strawberries and cream, fish and chips on Friday, turkey at Christmas and a juicy spring lamb at Easter. Lamb sales are forecast to be “epic” this Easter, according to the Agriculture and Horticultural Development Board. In 2023, Brits bought 25.5 percent more lamb roasts for the festive season than the previous year.

‘Created by PR and marketing’

Lamb is symbolically linked to Easter – Jesus is “the Lamb of God” – but it is a relatively recent tradition. For centuries, the British ate mutton. Sheep were bred primarily for wool, milk and cheese before being eaten when they were no longer productive. Lamb is rarely mentioned in old cookbooks.

Spring lamb doesn’t fit into the British farming calendar, explains Ben Carter, head of sustainable growth at Durslade, and Easter lamb was “created by PR and marketing”. Most lambs are born from January to April and only develop sufficient fat and flavor after a summer in the meadow. To satisfy the market, lamb is imported (the UK imports a third of the mutton it consumes) or artificially raised in winter, often fed grain or soya.

Those shopping at Durslade's Farm Shop will not find any lambs available for Easter as their lambs will not be born until April 1Those shopping at Durslade's Farm Shop will not find any lambs available for Easter as their lambs will not be born until April 1

Those shopping at Durslade’s Farm Shop won’t find spring lambs for Easter as their lambs won’t be born until April 1

In 2018 there is a New York Times article about London’s improved food scene was entitled “Beyond Porridge and Boiled Mutton”. It used the old cliché that mutton is lean and tough, but that mutton and tenderloin are a superior product for more and more chefs. As the animal ages, it becomes fattier, has a richer flavor, darker meat and more texture.

“I’ve never eaten older sheep and found it tough or chewy,” says Tommy Banks, chef at Roots, The Black Swan and The Abbey Inn, all in Yorkshire. “It’s just not that. It has more flavor and there really is no compromise in texture. It is a better all-round product.” Banks breeds Herdwick sheep, which cannot be slaughtered until they are two years old. Because the first lambs only arrive in April, there are no lambs in his restaurants at Easter. “It’s a terrible time to eat lamb. If you go to a good butcher [in spring], you’re probably eating hogget. It’s just called lamb to satisfy the market.”

Mutton, the versatile meat

A growing appetite for pork and mutton is being helped by the variety of cuisines on our high streets. Indian restaurants regularly serve mutton biryanis and curries, and mutton curries are common in Caribbean spots. Lamb could get lost among the spices and heat.

When Eroshan Meewella opened Sri Lankan restaurant Kolamba in Soho, mutton was a no-brainer. In Sri Lanka, he explains, the word ‘mutton’ is used for sheep, lambs or goats; the latter are eaten most often. He opted for mutton, of which goat was more difficult to obtain, for a spicy dry curry and mutton rolls.

“We wanted the stronger taste that comes from an older animal,” Meewella explains. “It lends itself better, holds together and develops flavor as you cook it slowly.” There is little reluctance among customers. “I’ve been seeing it in Indian restaurants for years. I think that makes people feel comfortable with it.”

Similarly, Andy Oliver uses hogget and mutton in his Thai restaurants in London, Som Saa and Kolae. Mutton appears in several curries, and Kolae has a pork chop marinated in turmeric, coconut cream and spices. Oliver is inspired by Islamic Thai cuisine, where stronger meats such as mutton “are the proteins of choice. They really work with the herbs. You trade some of the tenderness of a younger lamb for extra flavor.” The chop has been a hit since the restaurant opened last November. “We definitely use lamb too, but I’m more excited about hogget and cull yaw,” says Oliver.

Kolae's pork chop marinated in turmeric, coconut cream and spicesKolae's pork chop marinated in turmeric, coconut cream and spices

Kolae’s pork chop marinated in turmeric, coconut cream and spices

Older means better, in more ways than one

Farmer Matt Chatfield’s Cornwall Project uses ‘cull yaw’ meat, which comes from ewes that are too old to breed. For most farmers it is crucial that lamb gets to market as quickly as possible; the pasture can then be used for the next generation. Chatfield buys sheep that are no longer suitable for breeding, when they are “thin, at their worst”. He fattens them on biodiverse pastures before selling them to a growing number of premium restaurants. “It will die eventually, but it has had a very good last six months,” says Chatfield, who believes it is a superior product. Top London restaurants such as Brat, Smoking Goat, Kiln, Ikoyi and Mangal II agree.

Chatfield has partnered with Pipers Farm, a leading producer of ethically raised meat based in Devon, to sell direct to customers. “We don’t take anything under nine months old,” says Abby Allen, farm director at Pipers Farm. “The younger it is, it tends to have eaten a lot of milk, and you end up with an immature lamb that lacks flavor and texture. Plus, morally speaking, it’s a bit like eating veal.”

Lamb purchased from Pipers Farm starts out aged about a year, making it technically highLamb purchased from Pipers Farm starts out aged about a year, making it technically high

Lamb purchased from Pipers Farm starts out about a year old, which means it’s technically hogget: Matt Austin

Peter Greig, who founded Pipers Farm in 1989, laments that the Easter lamb is ‘born in a barn in January and pumped full of concentrates. [feed]or imported”. Pipers Farm sells about the same amount of mutton as lamb, and at Easter every lamb sold is almost a year old. In the farmhouse, Greig cooks me a twelve-month-old fillet of lamb neck – it’s tender, with a rich flavor that lingers all month, but has none of the lambiness that puts the meat off slightly. He follows with a whooping loin. It’s rich, nutty, with an almost venison-like intensity. “It has a magical complexity,” says Greig.

There’s no doubt that pork and mutton stand up better to bold seasoning and slow cooking, but you can substitute most lamb recipes, although it may take a little longer as the animals are larger. If it is too greasy, remove some of the fat. Oliver recommends grilling chops low and slow over medium heat. Allen adds: “What I would like people to ask themselves is that if you buy good quality mutton should eat just as well as a leg of lamb.”

Where can you buy hogget?


A butcher from Yorkshire who supplies both top restaurants and private individuals with meat from native breeds. Owner Jorge Thomas says hogget always sells out quickly when it airs (currently scheduled for July), and Swaledale offers a variety of mutton cuts on a permanent basis.

Heritage meat

Located on Yew Tree Farm in the Lake District, once owned by Beatrix Potter, this farm specializes in Herdwick pork and mutton, as well as Galloway beef. All regular lamb cuts are available as hogget.

Piper’s Farm

Pipers Farm is a network of 45 farms, mainly in the South West, centered around Pipers Farm in Cullompton, Devon. The lamb starts when it is almost a year old, and much of it is technically hogget, while mutton, including cull yaw, has also emerged as a favorite. As with most suppliers, mutton comes in cheaper than lamb.

Turner & George

Run by a chef and butcher, Turner & George has become one of London’s best butchers, with stores in Angel and Waterloo, and mutton is available in a range of cuts.

Salter & King

Salter & King, based in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, sources its heritage breed meat locally, and also has plenty of cuts of pork and mutton to choose from, with mutton regularly sourced from Somerleyton Estate in Lowestoft.


Durslade Farm Shop in Bruton, which has just opened a second branch in Mayfair, sells pork and mutton, as well as lamb that is almost a year old. The animals come from their own farm in Bruton.

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