Mutton

Lamb on display at the Saxe-Breteuil market (7th arrondissement), 18 Feb. 2012. Photo: Carolin C. Young.
Lamb on display at the Saxe-Breteuil market (7th arrondissement), 18 Feb. 2012. Photo: Carolin C. Young.

One of the ways in which the Parisian diet has most changed since Grimod de la Reynière’s day is the consumption of mutton.  In 1803, he described a leg of mutton as, “the most common roast on bourgeois tables.” Currently, one is hard-pressed to find true mutton — being defined as the meat of sheep two years or older in age —even at the numerous Halal butchers that cater to Paris’s large Middle Eastern and North African populations, who esteem the stronger flavor and darker color of the older flesh in their cuisine.

It can purportedly be special ordered it from  butchers such as the Halal farm/abbatoir Kissi on the outskirts of Paris. However, I have never seen it sold in a Parisian market or butcher.

That being said, Grimod himself disliked the Paris-region mutton because he found it both stringy and tough. He advised that, “if one wishes to eat an excellent one, it is necessary to take it from far away and to bring it expressly.” In his opinion, the best came from “the Ardennes, Cabourg, Pré-Salé, and Arles … One could mention afterwards those of Beauvais, Reims, Dieppe, and Avranche.”

The cost of transporting the sheep such a great distance made good mutton prohibitively expensive to all but the richest gourmands. However, in today’s locavore-obsessed culture, it is worth highlighting the fact that in the year 1803 Grimod and his gourmandizing pals felt that the superior flavor and texture of these far-away sheep justified the exorbitant expense of transporting them all the way to the French capital.

Lamb organs on display at the Boucherie Hamouch at the Aligre market (12th arrondissement), 5 Feb. 2013. Photo: Carolin C. Young.
Lamb organs on display at the Boucherie Hamouch at the Aligre market (12th arrondissement), 5 Feb. 2013. Photo: Carolin C. Young.

Lamb, on the other hand, remains readily available across Paris in a spectrum of cuts. Without much difficulty one can even find the fressure, feet, tongues, and other bits and pieces that get too easily overlooked outside of France.

Grimod, however, felt it to be a “solecism of the kitchen to speak of … [lamb] before Easter.” Therefore, I, too, shall leave off further talk of it until that time.

Read Grimod on mutton here.

Read the original French text here.

(c) Carolin C. Young.

 

About Carolin

I am an independent cultural historian with a strong interest in the connections between food & art. My first book, Apples of Gold in Settings of Silver: Stories of Dinner as a Work of Art, recounts twelve dinners from the annals of European history. Although a New Yorker by birth, I have since 2004 lived in Paris, where I lead annotated lunches and walking tours. Now I am retracing the footsteps of Grimod de la Reynière to see how his seasonal guide to Paris holds up today.
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