To be in perfection, mutton should be at least four, or better five or six years old, but sheep of this age are rarely if ever, met with now-a-days, when they are constantly killed under two years. To know the age of mutton, examine the breast bones; if these are all of a white gristly color the animal was four years old or over, while the younger it is the pinkier are the bones, which, in a sheep of under a year, are entirely red.
Good mutton should be of a clear dark red, the fat firm and white, and not too much of it; when touched the meat should feel crisp yet tender. If the fat is yellow and the lean flabby and damp, it is bad. A freshly scraped wooden skewer run into the meat along the bone will speedily enable anyone to detect staleness. For roasting mutton scarcely can be hung too long, as long as it is not tainted; but for boiling it must not be kept nearly so long or the meat will be of a bad color when cooked.
The freshness of lamb is comparatively easy to distinguish, as if fresh the neck vein will be a bright blue, the knuckles stiff, and the eyes bright and full.
Veal is at its best when the calf is from three to four months old. The meat should be of a close firm grain, white in color and the fat inclining to a pinkish tinge. Veal is sometimes coarser in the grain, and redder in the flesh, not necessarily a mark of inferiority, but denoting the fact that calf has been brought up in the open. Like all young meat, veal turns very quickly, therefore it never should hang more than two or three days. In choosing veal always examine the suet under the kidney; if this be clammy and soft, with a faint odor, the meat is not good, and always reject any that has greenish or yellowish spots about it. The head should be clean skinned and firm, the eyes full and clear, the kidneys large and well covered with fat, the liver a rich dark clear color, free from any spots or gristle, while the sweetbreads should be firm, plump, of a delicate color, and free from strings.
The flesh of pork, when in good condition, is a delicate pinky white, with a close fine grain; the fat, which should not be too abundant, of a white color, very faintly tinged with pink; the skin should be thin and elastic to the touch, and the flesh generally cool, clean, and smooth looking; if, on the contrary, the flesh is flabby and clammy when touched, it is not fresh.