The European Commission approved the first ever Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) from Iceland today for Icelandic lamb (ice. Íslenskt lambakjöt). The product name is applied to the meat from purebred Icelandic lambs, which have been born, raised, and slaughtered on the island of Iceland. The designation is the same type granted to champagne, and means that no product that does not fulfil the above conditions can be labelled as Icelandic lamb.
“Sheep farming has a long and rich cultural tradition in Iceland,” a notice from the European Commission reads. “The characteristics of ‘Íslenskt lambakjöt’ first and foremost consists [sic] of a high degree of tenderness and gamey taste, due to the fact that lambs roam freely in demarcated wild rangelands and grow in the wild, natural surroundings of Iceland, where they feed on grass and other plants. The long tradition of sheep farming passing down generations on the island has led to high standards of flock management and grazing methods.”
Sheep farming in Iceland stretches back over one millennium, to the settlement period. The number of sheep in the country peaked in 1978 at over 890,000, but dropped to 432,780 in 2018, the lowest number recorded since 1948. Consumption of lamb has dropped significantly in Iceland since the early 1980s but has remained relatively steady in recent years, at around 20 kilos per inhabitant per year. Icelandic lamb has also been exported to new markets in recent years, including China. The newly-bestowed Protected Designation of Origin may help Icelandic lamb on foreign markets in the coming years.
Icelandic lamb holds a similar protected designation within Iceland, as do hand-knitted Icelandic sweaters and perhaps soon, Icelandic whisky.