Dry aged mutton could be the next big thing in food thanks to a trial between farmers and chefs at the William Angliss Institute.
Led by Chef Dale Lyman, a team of Melbourne based researchers have been looking at ways to make mutton more appealing to consumers.
Using the age-old method of dry ageing, the team have discovered a way to make mutton more juicy and tender, while improving the flavour profile. Dry ageing – which is generally used on beef rather than lamb – is a process that dehydrates meat in a controlled environment over the course of weeks or months.
Mr Lyman has been surprised by the results that dry ageing has had upon mutton – traditionally a cheap, undesirable cut.
‘The shoulder cooks beautifully as a braise. The forequarter, the loin, some of the other cuts like the rump are good for long, slow cooking. The mince is fantastic,” he said
“It has huge potential. I think it may be slow to begin with, but once chefs get the product and figure out the best way to cook with it, it’ll go gangbusters.”
His experiences echo those of a 2016 study by Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) that found that dry aged mutton was more favourable than standard wet aged lamb based on taste.
University of Melbourne researcher Hollis Ashman says it’s the complexity of the flavours as well as the strong buttery taste that make aged mutton so appealing.
“[Dry aged mutton] becomes almost like chocolate, so think of it as the chocolate of meats,” she said.
“A crust grows on the outside of the meat as it ages, and the inside of the meat becomes very tender and juicy. It tastes really good.”
Potential for the Industry
While Australians are typically mad for lamb products, it may be a little harder to convince consumers of the benefits of dry aged mutton. Because of the lack of interest in cheaper lamb cuts, most domestically raised mutton is currently shipped overseas.
The upside, however, is a boost to the sustainability of the sheep enterprises as the value of older ewes increases.
“I was talking to a producer the other day — it’s a big company with 100,000 ewes — and they are culling 5 percent of their ewes every year, which is a routine practice,” said Professor Robyn Warner from Melbourne University.
Another roadblock is the capability of the supply chain to integrate the dry ageing process into current processing models.
While most abattoirs have the facilities to age meat for a week, mutton requires at least a month.
If the issue can be resolved, WA Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development senior research office Robin Jacobs estimates it could double the price farmers are paid for mutton.
‘There are some challenges there with how to do it commercially, but certainly there is lots of interest both from producers and consumers who have tried it in these restaurants”, she said.
Ms Jacobs said it would also fill a price gap in the lamb market.
“Lamb in a dinner occasion is about $35 for a main, whereas dry aged sheep would be about $25 to $28 a plate.”