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Cookery event success provides boost for dales hill farmers

[Wednesday 21 February 2007]
mature lamb cookery event
(left to right) Chefs Eddie Shilton and Steve Jobson,
event organiser Nick White, chefs Lee Campbell,
Stephen Hodgkiss and Mike Jameson

AN EVENT held as part of a project that could pay dividends for upland farmers in the Yorkshire Dales has been hailed a success.

The tasting event at Newcastle College's Rye Hill campus, which aimed to test the potential of a new, regionally-branded mature lamb product, was greeted with enthusiasm by north-east food producers and caterers.

Mature lamb is meat from young hill breed sheep, such as the Swaledale, the Blackface and the Cheviot. They are reared naturally on the hills and uplands, to create a tender product that is full of flavour. Only sheep aged between 18 months and two years are selected which, organisers say, produces a unique taste experience.

A particular favourite with guests at Monday's tasting was shredded mature lamb in a flour tortilla. The dish was invented by head chef, Eddie Shilton from Battlesteads Hotel restaurant in Wark.

"I used slow-cooked rib, shredded with a fork like Chinese crispy duck. The meat was mixed with fresh mint, chopped chillies and pomegranate seeds, and served in a tortilla with sour cream and salad.

"This dish has already been on the snack menu in our restaurant, and has been really popular with diners, as well as staff. Everybody thinks it offers something different, and they particularly like the fact that it is made with local produce.

"Assuming farmers can achieve consistency, as well as continuity of supply, I would be keen to buy it on a regular basis. I think that tourists in particular would find it an attractive option."

"If successful, the project could make a real contribution towards the survival of the region's hill farms, which are struggling to cope with poor lamb prices and high costs," says organiser Nick White, of Richmond based WKD Consulting. "It could also help to maintain the landscape for tourism and leisure.

Sheep farming is under significant pressure, but mature lamb has the potential to become a branded product that will increase demand

Nick White - WKD Consulting

"Sheep farming is under significant pressure, but mature lamb has the potential to become a branded product that will increase demand. It retains the tenderness of lamb but has more flavour and greater versatility.

"It is also well-known that sheep play a vital role in grazing our hills, keeping the land from reverting to scrub. Therefore this project has a lot to offer to both farming and the public."

For anyone who would like to try cooking the product at home or in their business, he has a variety of meat cuts available either fresh or frozen.

They include shoulder, leg and loin (bone-in or bone-out), as well as leg steaks and cubed and minced mature lamb. Half or whole carcases are also available. Orders can be taken via the website, www.ruralbusinessconsulting.co.uk for delivery on a fortnightly basis, or by telephoning 01748 831910.

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