In Italy, spring lamb or abbacchio is an ancient tradition symbolizing the renewal of life and the welcoming of springtime. Flocks of spring lamb begin to appear in the fields as spring arrives, just in time to become the succulent centerpiece of Easter dinner. Lamb is one of the great delicacies of a pastoral culture, but as a symbol of innocence it is also the sacrificial dish par excellence.
Just 30 to 60 days old and weighing less than 15 pounds, spring lamb has only been fed their mothers milk, so its flesh is tender, buttery and succulent, delicately veiled with a fine layer of fat. The poet Juvenal (AD 60 to ca AD 127) once (facetiously) wrote of baby lamb as the tenderest of the flock. Made of more milk than blood, he claimed spring lambs had not lost their virginity by eating grass.
Abbacchio gets its name from the stick used to kill lambs. In ancient times, the Roman dialect differentiated between ‘to kill’ and ‘to sacrifice,’ and they spoke of nursing lambs, tender symbols of innocence, with compassion and nuance. In the early days of the 12th century, shepards used to bring their flocks into Rome so people could select their tiny victims. Nowadays, the expression sentirsi abbacchiato, means to feel downbeat or demoralized.
Abbacchi are often sold whole, though one can also buy them cut in half or quartered (if you do buy abbacchio in pieces, remember that the animal should be small– if it’s too large it’s no longer abbacchio). Every ounce of the animal is consumed with relish, from legs to ribs, organ meats to intestines and brains. This affirms the lamb did not die in vain.
At Babbo, we serve Abbacchio Cacio e Uovo Spring Lamb with an egg and cheese sauce. Egg, another symbol of spring (the seeds of life Flowring within in a thin shell), are a perfect accompaniment to the mild and tender meat of abbacchi.