SHEEP FARMERS, chefs and the business community on Skye came together last week to promote and tuck into the island's new brand – ‘Skye mutton’.

Over 100 guests gathered at a dinner showcasing the results of months of hard work by a Rural Innovation Support Service group, a Scottish Government and EU-funded rural development initiative, set up to find out whether there might be appetite on the island for Skye mutton rather than just lamb.

“There was 100% positive feedback!” said Janette Sutherland of SAC Consulting, who led the group. “It was tremendous, really tasty,” she continued. “It’s always struck me that although people on Skye eat mutton at home, you never see it on menus, so tourists don’t get the opportunity to try it.”

Ms Sutherland, who is based on Skye, joined up with food and drink consultant Calum Johnston, also of SAC, and, funded by RISS, the pair began by surveying chefs, restaurant owners and sheep producers to get their views on potentially marketing mutton to tourists. Students from the West Highland College took part in a recipe competition to find innovative ways to cook mutton, which would challenge traditional opinions of the meat being ‘strong smelling and slow cooking’.

Skye Mutton could be potentially boost Skye’s economy, insisted Ms Sutherland: “Skye sheep producers would see three times the value if they could sell mutton locally,” she explained. “Rather than selling sheep to mainland buyers before the winter, they could wait and turn them out onto the species-rich grassland and heather for finishing in the summer – it makes better use of resources and fits in with demand from tourists."

The new push for mutton is not intended to replace lamb but will serve to maintain sheep numbers on the island and will add value to current flocks. Ms Sutherland explained the next steps the brand will need to take: “We need to set up a co-op of farmers and crofters and create a project officer post to look after the buying and selling between the co-op and the chefs. With Brexit there is obviously concern over trade. This would create a strong supply chain and a circular economy for Skye. It wouldn’t be huge numbers of sheep but it would mean regularity for producers, rather than the feast and famine they have now.”