The melting point of fat from the fat-tailed sheep

Now there’s a blog title to get your heart racing. Seriously, though, this is interesting for cooks as well as historians.

Fat from the fat-tailed sheep has been the fat of choice for some of the world’s most sophisticated cuisines from the Middle Ages and probably way before that.  And given that many people find lamb fat too strong, that in America at least every trace is trimmed off, that presents a problem in historical gastronomy.

Now Charles Perry, the expert on medieval Islamic cuisine, lays out the science of lamb and mutton fat on Anissa Helou’s blog.

Since the tail is exposed to low temperatures on four sides, [the fat] has a particularly low melting point – it’s more like bacon fat or butter; slightly muttony bacon fat or butter. via anissa’s blog » Blog Archive » those fat tails.

It’s worth reading in full.  And it’s worth thinking about similar confusions about beef fat (often dismissed as tallow) when the suet that is used in cooking has particular culinary properties not found in butter, for example.

While you are at it, Anissa has some great posts from her travels in Iran. I particularly liked the one on rice.

I think I can get Iranian rice here in the States.  But fat-tailed sheep fat?  Anyone looking for a new entrepreneurial niche?

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5 thoughts on “The melting point of fat from the fat-tailed sheep

  1. anissa

    how come you don’t have a share button on your blog rachel? so glad you enjoyed the posts from iran (a year later :)) and glad you enjoyed charles’ brilliant guest post. am v excited to be seeing you in mexico city. x

    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      I thought I did have a share button, Anissa. I will have to check into that. And I need to write to you about Mexico City possibilities. So much to choose from, so little time.

  2. eryv

    Hi Rachel,

    Thank you for very interesting link on the fat-tail discussion.

    I believe that fat-tail sheep is one of the oldest breed in the US. They were introduced here a few hundred years ago from Tunisia. By asking the owners of halal stores you might find the farms were they still popular.

    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      It probably is, Cindy. But then I’d have said that about olive oil thirty years ago and look what happened.


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