ONE of the region's leading museums has found a treasure on its own doorstep.
Mutton from Teesdale is now on the menu in CafÃ Bowes at the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle.
Chef Ben Parnaby is featuring Teesdale mutton from Pikestone Farm, near Woodland, on both the ordinary menu and alongside turkey on the Christmas menu.
If customers have any queries about the dish, part-time waitresses Hannah and Leah Stephenson can tell them all about it - the mutton is from their parents' hill-top farm just a few miles
Mr Parnaby said: "I only tried mutton myself around 18 months ago and it is a fantastic taste."
During the week, he serves pan-fried fillet of Pikestone Farm mutton with rosemary crushed potatoes and bread sauce florentine.
For Christmas, he is recreating celebrity chef Brian Turner's dish of braised Teesdale mutton with caper and parsley cobbler.
Mr Parnaby said: "The fillet on the menu is a wonderful texture, like steak, and just goes to show that mutton doesn't have to be cooked for hours.
"Using local products, including mutton, means we have traceability which gives customers reassurance. It reduces food miles, which has got to be good for the environment, and it fosters good
relations with the community and helps the local economy."
Julia and Carl Stephenson supply the mutton from their farm, where they already operate a successful doorstep delivery service for lamb.
Prince Charles launched the Mutton Renaissance campaign after one of his visits to Teesdale where he met Mr Stephenson and other local farmers who were struggling to sell their older animals.
The mutton is from sheep that are over two years old and from farms which have fully traceability and assurance.
Pikestone is a member of the Farm Assured British Beef and Lamb scheme and in an environmental scheme.
The sheep are all reared traditionally and are taken to the abattoir at nearby Witton-le-Wear. The mutton is hung for 2Â to three weeks.
The demand for mutton has helped boost the farm's income at a time when the sheep sector is suffering from horrendously low prices.
Mr Stephenson said the older sheep would normally go through the auction marts.
He said: "We have a commitment from the Bowes to buy our mutton. We have only planned as far ahead as Christmas at this stage, but mutton is seasonal from October to February."
The amount of meat compares well with lamb; a 29.5kg carcase produced 16.08kg of meat after being de-boned.
CafÃ Bowes is listed on the Mutton Renaissance and Eat Teesdale websites, which also lists other suppliers of local lamb and mutton.
The Stephensons, who deliver free within a 20-mile radius, have pedigree Limousin cattle and Swaledale, North of England Mule, Blue-faced Leicester and Texel crossed sheep.
They are also building a small herd of pedigree Beef Shorthorn cattle, which were bred on the farm until the 1920s.
The family supply fresh and ready-to-freeze half lamb packs in convenient cuts. Anyone interested in lamb or mutton can contact them on 01833-631318.