Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
Jul 9, 2012 11:01 AM

Lamb - should it be gamey or not?

On a recent thread, I saw a review that said "the lamb was cooked perfectly, without a single hint of gaminess"...

Pardon the obvious, but isn't that gaminess exactly why we eat lamb? I prefer to cook my lamb closer to medium (vs med rare) in order to get a little more gaminess.

What say you CH?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. It should taste like lamb.

    It shouldn't be gamey like a fully-developed sheep...mutton is truly gamey and IMO unpleasant.

    4 Replies
    1. re: sunshine842

      Agreed that lamb should taste like lamb!

      Disagree that mutton is unpleasant, although I do find it gamey. I find that mutton is great when it's cooked like mutton, and not so great when it's treated like lamb.

      1. re: caseyjo

        "I find that mutton is great when it's cooked like mutton, and not so great when it's treated like lamb."

        What's the distinction?

        1. re: ns1

          Mutton tends to be tougher, so it needs to be cooked differently (usually low and slow to break down connective tissue). Plus, it's got a stronger flavor, so that needs to be balanced out with spices and herbs (usually not seasoned the same way that I would season lamb). This is all in my experience, of course.

          1. re: caseyjo

            I would eat mutton as an alternative to starvation.

            But I find it overpoweringly strong-flavored -- to the point that when served mutton at a restaurant well-known for its mutton (thus probably prepared correctly) -- and after several bites, just pushed it around my plate and ate the other meats that had been served.

            To each their own.

    2. Hopefully it has a little more game than frenched rack of tofu.

      1. I would hope that lamb would have bit of gaminess because if it didnt why bother with lamb and just buy beef instead.

        Ive stopped buying lamb because the last two times that I have purchased lamb I was very disappointed. It tasted more like generic beef or even veal than the lamb that I remember 20 years ago. I paid $9.00 for a pound of what was claimed to be local(Amish) pasture raised and organic spring lamb and it was utterly tasteless.

        36 Replies
        1. re: Kelli2006

          The flavorless lamb was probably American raised. American lamb is corn fed, grows larger, and has less flavor. Australian and New Zealand lamb has more grass in the diet, is smaller, and more flavor.

          1. re: JMF

            this seriously explains a lot

            1. re: JMF

              And this is why I always ask if the lamb is American. If they say yes, I don't buy it. New Zealand lamb stomps all over American in terms of flavor. To me, it tastes grassy and fresh. American lamb just tastes like beef.

              1. re: Isolda

                Interesting. The UK has long been an export market for New Zealand lamb. I won't usually buy it as it hasn't as much flavour as British lamb.

                1. re: Harters

                  If we could get British lamb here, that's what I would buy!

                  1. re: Isolda

                    Unlikely to happen, Isolda. We're a small country and don't raise enough for our own needs (hence the NZ imports). In some parts of the country, sheep cannot be sold to enter the food market as there is still pasture contamination from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.

                    1. re: Harters

                      I see British lamb fairly regularly here in France -- but you're right -- if they put sheep on every available hectare on the island, it still wouldn't be enough to supply the US.

                      British lamb is excellent...and so is pre-salé lamb from Normandie...and the stellar chops we had from the Limousin region last week....

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        I hadnt realised that we export to France. Is it particular specialitiies or just ordinary lamb?

                        We occasionally come across British saltmarsh lamb and it's every bit as good as the Normandie lamb. It's raised in Sussex and, I think, in Wales.

                        1. re: Harters

                          just ordinary lamb - I don't see the brand all the time, but I think I bought chops the last time I found the label.

                          The name of the website gives me a giggle:

                      2. re: Harters

                        Really? I had no idea. Is that around East Midlands-ish area?

                        1. re: gembellina

                          gem - no. It's mainly hill farms in North Wales (over 300 farms) and a few in the Lake District that are still affected.

                          1. re: Harters

                            How interesting. I assumed it would be on the east coast as boyfriend's mum always talks about how in Lincolnshire they thought they would be first hit if Russia fired a nuke during the Cold War. But it seems like it's radioactive rain falling over the Pennines and into Wales, and lingering (for 26 years) in the peaty soils.

                            But it also looks like the controls on movement of sheep from these areas of Wales were lifted this month, so maybe we'll see more Welsh lamb soon!

                    2. re: Harters

                      "British" is way too broad a term. Most (not all) English lamb is just as bland as generic American. OK, it's grass-fed, but it's grown on rich grass on lowland pasture. Welsh lamb is grown on hillsides with poorer quality grass, which gives it a far superior flavour. The travesty in recent years has been English lowland sheep being shipped over to Wales for slaughter, which magically qualifies them to be sold as "Welsh". You have to have a butcher you can trust, or just drive to Wales yourself and pick up a half-lamb. Lucky for us, my wife's mother used to raise sheep in the Welsh hills, so we had access to the "motherlode" (sorry, I couldn't resist that).

                      We used to sneer at New Zealand lamb, but now we live in CA, we are grateful when we see it.

                      1. re: zabriskiepoint

                        "but it's grown on rich grass on lowland pasture."

                        Actually not so. Much of the English lamb is raised on the hills of northern counties

                        1. re: Harters

                          Harters, please do not selectively quote me out of context. I did not say that no English lamb is produced on upland areas, simply that most of it comes from lowland areas which produce inferior flavoured meat. That is based on living in the UK for well over 40 years, eating a great deal of lamb (our favourite meat), and learning what was worth buying (NOT New Zealand, NOT generic "English", and be bloody careful when buying "Welsh").

                          1. re: zabriskiepoint

                            I wasnt quoting you out of context. Quite the opposite.

                            What you posted was "Most (not all) English lamb is just as bland as generic American. OK, it's grass-fed, but it's grown on rich grass on lowland pasture. "

                            I simply disagree with your suggestion that "most" of it comes from lowland areas. Do you have any evidence to support that speculation?

                            Of course, it makes more sense to consider the production from the whole of the UK, rather than one region as that's how it;s sold here - as British lamb. I would be surpirsed if anyone would doubt that the overwheming majority of sheep raised for food are hill sheep. Lowland areas, such as my own county of Cheshire, where there is good pasture are used for cattle not sheep, generally speaking.

                            1. re: Harters

                              "I wasnt quoting you out of context. Quite the opposite."

                              Bollocks! You quoted a small fragment of my post - omitting the crucial fact that I said "most" - and simply said I was wrong, when the truth is merely that your opinion differs from mine about the relatively subtle question of where the majority of English lamb is raised (which is fine by me). At least, I take it that you are not claiming that all English lamb is full of flavour?

                              "sheep raised for food"

                              What do you imagine happens to all the male lambs born to ewes in flocks raised for wool? Yup - they show up as meat on your supermarket shelf. And not only are those sheep raised in cushy surroundings, they are also of breeds that produce inferior meat.

                              "Do you have any evidence"

                              I already pointed out that my opinion is based on over 40 years eating lamb in the UK and finding that generic "British"/"English" lamb was far too often bland and boring. Plus I traveled widely around England and saw a lot of sheep on relatively lush/lowland pasture.

                              Do YOU have any evidence to support your speculation?

                              I'm not saying there is no good lamb produced in England, just that you won't find it in a supermarket or generic butcher's shop. Time was when telling people to make sure they got "Welsh" lamb would guarantee a quality product, but that doesn't seem to work so well any more, either.

                              Saddest lamb-related tale was eating at Gidleigh Park - the waiter was so proud of the "local Devon lamb", which was beautifully cooked and presented, had a wonderful texture, but tasted of nothing at all to us. Most Americans would have loved it...

                              1. re: Harters

                                And by way of offering evidence of my own assertion about northern hill farming, here's the summary of 2010 sheep stocks by English region, taken from the DEFRA (Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) website:

                                North East - 1.8 million

                                North west - 2.8

                                Yorkshire - 2.0

                                East Midlands - 1.1

                                West Midlands - 2.0

                                Eastern - 0.3

                                South East - 1.1

                                South West 2.9


                                I prefer factual evidence rather than the evidence gained from "travelling" and "seeing a lot of sheep" but each to their own.

                          2. re: zabriskiepoint

                            Zabriskiepoint, you mentioned you live in CA. I don't know if you ever get out to Utah, but if so, I buy lamb from a European who moved to the U.S. and raises lamb as a "by product" of being a raw milk cheese maker. He sells his wares (both cheese and lamb) at the Salt Lake City farmer's market. You order the grass fed lamb and when slaughter time arrives, he meets you so you can pick up your meat. I love the gaminess of lamb (not so much passion for mutton though.) and I buy a whole butchered lamb twice a year from him. To me, his lamb is far superior to the market lamb, including those labeled "New Zealand Lamb". I'm not trying to say American lamb is better than NZ lamb. It's not at all. However, there ARE farmers here who don't sell to market that produce wonderful lamb like you would find in other areas of the world. If you're ever in UT, his name is Stig and his # is 801-891-2355. He'll take your order and let you know when the next pick up dates will be. Trust me... He's an amazing cheese maker and raises exceptional quality lamb!

                        2. re: Isolda

                          'American lamb tastes just like beef' ...which for me, tastes not much like beef at all! American beef is very tender and you can often cut it with a fork, but just doesn't have the flavour of British/French/Australian beef, once again down to the diet of grass rather than corn.

                        3. re: JMF

                          Correct! You are not going to find gamey American lamb.

                          1. re: scoopG

                            not necessarily. The US industry considers it lamb for three years -- a three-year-old "lamb" will definitely be at the 'gamey' end of the spectrum.

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              All the gaminess has been bred out over here.

                              1. re: scoopG

                                I stand by what I said. By the time an animal reaches three years of age, the rest of the world has been calling it a mutton for quite some time.

                                Mutton has a markedly more pronounced flavor than lamb.

                                1. re: sunshine842

                                  Lamb in the USA not gamey and yes, mutton almost always is. In USA we raise them and provide feed, they do not graze and most often slaughter young.

                                2. re: scoopG

                                  Based on the lamb I had last week, I beg to differ. Gamey as hell (american gamey), nothing like the lamb I get from TJ's

                                  1. re: ns1

                                    Americans eat so little lamb and are conditioned to think it is gamey.

                                    1. re: scoopG

                                      "Americans eat so little lamb"

                                      That's too broad a generalization. The USA is a wildly diverse place racially and culturally. The anti-lamb element seems to be predominately Caucasian. Hispanic, Middle Eastern, North African, Arab, and Asian (including the Indian subcontinent) Americans eat plenty of lamb (and goat). (I don't know about other groups, such as Native and African Americans.) Even amongst Caucasians, there is no homogeneity - those of Mediterranean origin are likely to be lamb eaters.

                                      1. re: zabriskiepoint

                                        Sure, there may well be families in the USA that eat lamb three meals a day, 365 days a year. Still, the per capita consumption is less than a pound a year. Per these folks.

                                3. re: sunshine842

                                  No, USDA regulations specifically state that "lamb" must be under 1 year old. The weight range is 90 to 140 lbs.



                                  Lamb vs. mutton
                                  Lamb is the meat from a sheep that is less than one year of age. Mutton is the meat from a sheep that is older than one year. Yearling mutton is intermediate between lamb and mutton and comes from a yearling, a sheep between 1 and 2 years of age. Mutton has a stronger flavor than lamb and is less preferred by the American consumer.

                                  1. re: KitchenBarbarian

                                    Similar age descriptions in the UK. Upto one year, it's lamb. One to two years, it's hogget. And over two, it's mutton.

                                    It's difficult to find hogget as farmers will tend to grow the lamb on to mutton because of the higher prices they can get for the more mature, stornger flavoured , meat.

                              2. re: JMF

                                That's WAY WAY too much of a blanket statement. ALL American lamb is decidedly NOT corn-fed & flavorless.

                                Around here, we have a fair number of local farms that raise absolutely delicious grass-fed lamb & supply both restaurants & farmers markets. It's far superior to anything I've ever dined on that was imported from Australia/New Zealand (which I've found to have a much less desirable bone-to-meat ratio in most cuts).

                                1. re: Bacardi1

                                  I buy delicious grass-fed lamb at the farmers market, and occasionally at a butcher. In the past a group of us have bought a couple of lambs from a CSA that was some of the best lamb I've ever had (and I've eaten lamb in Patagonia).

                                  However, even though it's delicious and tastes like lamb, it's not particularly gamey. My observation is that the gaminess comes from the fat, not the meat. Lamb fat can be very strong, but from good quality lamb, it's more mild.

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    Our CSA also has very good lamb. Good lamb flavor but not too strong. I have bought chops at the grocery store that were bland.

                                  2. re: Bacardi1

                                    I am not talking about small farms. They produce a very small amount vs. the large industrial ones. So yes, a blanket statement compared to the amounts.

                                    I am on the side of small farms. I consulted to many over the years. But reality is that 98% of all stock is raised on industrial lots.

                              3. Game tastes like game. Lamb tastes like lamb. They are not the same to my palate.

                                That said, I also don't find that there's a single taste of game - venison, rabbit, pigeon, pheasant, partridge all have their own flavours.

                                Lamb is generally a sweet meat and very different from hogget or mutton (which are equally delicious - although still not tasting like game).

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: Harters

                                  Harters, such is the nature of the English language...

                                  To an American, "gamey" doesn't mean it tastes like wild game. It means it tastes musky and strong - you've been in a locker room after a sporting match...imagine that sweaty aroma as a flavor -- THAT is what we mean when we say 'gamey'.

                                  It's unfortunate that it gets branded with a name that is so similar to lovely things like venison and pheasant...but it's a quirk of the usage of the language, not a shortfall in intelligence or taste-recognition on our part.

                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                    Ahhh. Thanks for the explanation. I've often seen Americans post about "gamey" and simply couldnt understand how they were comparing lamb with the game that I also eat. I'd sort of assumed that they weren't actually used to eating game and were using "gamey" as a way of describing "a taste I'm not familiar with".

                                    On the basis of your explanation, then I'll still stick with my original answer - lamb shouldnt be "gamey". It is a lovely mild sweet meat, milder and sweeter than, say, beef or pork (and different from hogget or mutton which are both stronger flavoured)

                                    1. re: Harters

                                      To this American, "gamey" means that it tastes like wild game. Lamb should taste like lamb, not like venison, or elk, or wild duck.

                                      And not all American lamb is corn fed and tasteless.

                                    2. re: sunshine842

                                      Maybe this is true sometimes, but I've also seen a poster ask why pork is sometimes "gamey". It seemed they were talking about tougher/darker cuts like shoulder (vs tenderloin for example). From this, and other instances, I gathered that some people use "gamey" to mean "has a flavour I don't like" or simply, "has flavour".

                                  2. Maybe it's due to the seasonings or prep, but I don't notice any real difference when eating mutton kebabs vs lamb kebabs.

                                    I guess it's the taste "distinction" between lamb and mutton that I don't quite understand yet.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: ns1

                                      I have eaten a lot more wild game than lamb. Lamb tastes like lamb and I love it. Some tastes stronger of lamb than other. Would really like to try a nice mutton chop.