Icelandic Lamb: Roaming free since settlement
Enjoy the delicious and distinctive flavour of Iceland’s favourite meat
Icelandic lamb is a protected species with a pure lineage of 1,100 years. Grazing freely in wild pastures, lamb is a crucial part of Iceland’s heritage and a proud tradition dating back to the Viking age. Icelandic lambs graze in Iceland’s rugged mountainous pastures on lush green grass, wild herbs and fresh berries, which make Icelandic lamb instantly recognisable for its delicious and distinctive flavour.
What makes Icelandic lamb so unique? Sheep have adapted to the harsh conditions of Iceland and have kept Icelanders alive for centuries. Sheep have survived inclement weather and volcanic periods in Iceland’s history. “Icelandic lamb has been feeding us with meat and milk for centuries and provided us with furs and wool to clothe us,” says Hafliði Halldórsson, the CEO of Icelandic Lamb. “It’s important to the survival of this nation, and it’s a favourite among most Icelanders if they want to cook something Icelandic.”
Iceland’s environment is also beneficial to the sheep raised in Iceland as the water is clean, the air quality superb, and they have a vast landscape to roam. Icelandic lambs work their way from the lowlands to the highlands, where farmers bring them down in the autumn. “All sheep farming is done through small family farms,” says Hafliði. “The animals follow a natural lifecycle in good conditions. Lambs are born in May; in June, they are left free to roam in diverse landscapes. In the autumn, they are brought back to the farms with some slaughtered and sent to market.”
A tradition in Iceland called Réttir is quite remarkable to witness. During September, Icelanders head to the countryside to participate in Réttir, the annual sheep round-up. Réttir is one of the country’s oldest cultural traditions. Icelandic sheep farmers reunite with family and friends and invite anyone interested to help round up the sheep from their summer grazing period in the mountains. Réttir involves a lot of walking and horseriding, followed by a night of celebration, with some festive singing and dancing. The first round-ups of the year start early in September and continue across the country until early October.
Lamb is one of the most delicious and authentic foods to eat in Iceland. Served in all seasons, Icelanders love to grill lamb in the summer, enjoy kjötsúpa (meat soup) in the autumn and have lamb on the table for holidays like Christmas and Easter.
Travellers are encouraged to sample Icelandic lamb on a trip to Iceland. Hundreds of restaurants and cafes around the country offer fresh, local lamb on their menus. The locals love it, and travellers can’t get enough. In fact, according to Gallup surveys rom the last seven years, lamb is the most popular food choice for tourists visiting Iceland, followed by Cod, Skyr, and Salmon.
For information on lamb recipes and some restaurants that serve Icelandic lamb, visit www.icelandiclamb.is.