There are awareness days for every day of the year: Talk Like a Pirate, Hug Your Boss, International Pillow Fight Day…the recent Lamb Day, on 1st August, is one I’ll be marking on the calendar henceforth.
Taking its name from Lammas Day – the first harvest festival of the year – it officially marks the start of the Welsh lamb season. Various initiatives took place on and around it this year, from presence at Borough Market to cooking demonstrations at Countryfile Live, all geared around highlighting to the public, just what it is that makes the lamb from this area of the world so downright delicious.
What better way to discover the quality and versatility of this fine meat, I found to the delight of my tastebuds, than to have it prepared in various ways by acclaimed Welsh chef Bryn Williams, accompanied by equally superb Welsh wine from White Castle Vineyard.
Bryn makes for an authentic ‘lambassador’ for the campaign. Being Welsh of course, but also his farming background and growing up on rural Denbigh, North Wales, surrounded by farms such as Daphne Tilley’s (with septuagenarian MBE, Daphne at the helm), where he and many other top London chefs source their meat. He also brings culinary kudos, including success on the Great British Menu, and a portfolio of restaurants such as Odette’s in Primrose Hill, Bryn Williams at Somerset House and a beachside bistro in Porth Eirias.
The Welsh lamb season, I learn in between delicious bites of crispy breaded lamb shoulder, olives and anchovy mayonnaise, runs roughly to September/October. But, right now, at the start of the season, it’s at its most plentiful and best.
So what makes Welsh lamb so special, I ask Bryn, as my second course, a plate of slow-cooked lamb neck, with broad beans, tarragon and Llaeth Y Llan yoghurt, is placed before me. For him, it’s the family-run farms, such as Daphne’s, dotted across the rolling Welsh countryside, where sustainable practices and generations of passed on know-how assure top quality, lean, PGI-status meat. And the unique taste attributed to the landscape the animals graze on which, thanks to the generous rainfall the country is well known for, is blanketed in lush green grass, heather and herbs.
95% of what’s produced is exported from the country, half of which ends up in Europe, where the loin and shoulder are the favoured cuts. The British market is driven by a love of the leg. Aside from championing PGI Welsh lamb, the Lamb Day campaign, and Bryn’s mission for the night, was to demonstrate the versatility of the meat and encourage home cooks to make the most of the whole animal, rather than restrict it to a Sunday roast centrepiece.
Bryn suggested, while we tucked into the main course – juicy lollypops of lamb rack, courgettes and tomatoes – giving the offal a go, using the kidneys and liver in a suet pudding, or flash-frying the hearts with smoked bacon. Above all, experimenting and incorporating them into every day dishes. His go-to dish at home is his favourite cut, the shoulder, slow roasted for 5-6 hours over a tray of thinly sliced layers of potatoes, onion and rosemary; the fat dripping down as it cooks to create what sounds like heaven on a plate. Iechyd da, indeed!
To find out more about Welsh lamb, visit www.eatwelshlambandwelshbeef.com.