Lamb, considered to be one of the most tender, delicate meats, is often served during celebrations and not just during the holidays. There are many varieties of lamb in Spain, which vary by type and age: lechazo and ternasco (two different types of young lamb) white, grey, and many other breeds of sheep. In short, there's a lot to be learned about lambs, and it doesn't all boil down to simply distinguishing between Churra and Merina breeds.
In Castile-León (the region of Spain with the greatest mutton production), suckling lamb refers to the animal that is feeding on milk. Their meat, oven roasted, has always been considered a delicacy, especially in the provinces of Valladolid, Burgos and Segovia, where it is considered an extraordinary gastronomic experience. There is a Protected Geographical Indication scheme which ensures its quality and under which more than 100,000 animals are certified each year.
Rock paintings of sheep
The most ancient evidence of sheep's existence and use in Castile-León dates back to the Celtic people, whose rock paintings have been found in the Las Batuecas areas of Salamanca. All livestock underwent notable growth due to the importance of the Mesta, described by Alfonso X the Wise as a group of sheep ranchers that planned the distribution of pastureland, scheduled use of resources, etc.
Milk-fed lamb with a quality seal currently comes from three breeds of sheep that are native to Castile-León: Churra, Castellana and Ojalada. Churra (which have long, course hair) were one of the first on the Iberian Peninsula and are mainly found in the Duero River Basin; Castellana have always been highly valued, especially for their wool; and Ojalada are a rustic, sober breed.
But breeds aside, the two main factors affecting the quality of milk-fed lamb are food and treatment. The animals feed exclusively on their mother's milk and are slaughtered before they are 35 days old and when they weigh between 9 and 12 kilograms. The lambs must be slaughtered the same day they enter the slaughterhouse and separately from other animals.
Suckling lamb has such high intrinsic quality that, when prepared traditionally, i.e. roasted in a wood-fired oven, the only ingredients required are water, salt and butter.
Many restaurants in the region serve this delicacy, and in many cases it's all they serve. The Roasters Association of Lechazo from Castile-León was created at the end of 2002 to promote the tradition of roasting lamb in wood-fired stoves. It currently has more than 80 members. The "birthplace" of Castilian lamb is the town of Sepúlveda, in Segovia.
FIGON ZUTE EL MAYOR TININ. López Tablada, 6. Tel.:921 540 165. Sepúlveda (Segovia)
EL RANCHO DE LA ALDEGUELA. (Hotel El Rancho) Marqués de Lozoya 3. Tel.: 921 401 060. Torrecaballeros. Segovia
MESON DE LA VILLA. La Sal, 3. Tel.: 947 501 025, Aranda de Duero. Burgos.
ASADOR LAS CUBAS. Figones, 9. Tel.: 920 300 125. Arévalo. Ávila.
ASADOR DE ARANDA. Castellana, 3. Tel.: 917 338 702. Madrid
CASA BOTIN. Cuchilleros, 17. Tel.: 913 664 217. Madrid
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