a meat for
As more and more consumers are looking for healthier options on the menu, why not satisfy their desires with venison? Recent research indicates that you could be on to a winner
Earlier this year saw the culmination of a three-year LINK research project sponsored by Defra and the Scottish Government, which found that venison not only contains significantly less fat than other red meats, but consumers like it. The research was led by ADAS* and involved the University of Bristol, the British Deer Farmers’ Association, Elmhirst Farmers, Holme Farmed Venison, Waitrose Ltd and the Humane Slaughter Association.
In taste tests, venison was scored highly for ‘tenderness’, ‘juiciness’ and ‘overall liking’ – 91 per cent of respondents indicated that they would purchase venison in the future, while 79 per cent of previous non-eaters of venison said they would eat venison in the future.
It was discovered that the main reasons for people not eating venison were that they “don’t know where to buy venison” and “don’t know enough about it”, rather than a particular dislike of venison. With this in mind, why not promote venison as an unusual feature on your menu? Not everyone wants to eat turkey day in, day out during the Christmas season and they might welcome the chance to try something different.
Historically deer were hunted and poached, but more recently numbers have increased and deer now pose a threat to trees and crops. Much effort is being put into controlling them by careful culling. The resulting wild venison is handled by game dealers, but culled deer are highly variable with regard to age and quality making it impossible to produce consistently high-quality, hygienic venison in this way.
As a result of this, efforts to farm deer began in Scotland and New Zealand about 40 years ago, and today 30,000 deer are farmed in the UK. On top of the 500 tonnes of farmed venison that is home-produced annually, the UK also imports about 1000 tonnes of farmed venison from New Zealand. Farmed venison is preferred by many to the wild product because it is of a more consistent quality, not over ‘gamey’, and is produced to recognised animal welfare standards.
“We select our breeding deer stock for quiet temperament and good muscle structure, and raise them in conditions as natural as possible on good grass and clover pastures. By using an abattoir designed for deer, full time meat inspection and controlled refrigeration, and with animals younger than 27 months of age under the QA scheme for deer, we can ensure meat in perfect condition.” – Richard Elmhirst, a Yorkshire farmed venison producer
In the project, venison was scored highly by consumers compared to other meats, and was especially prized for its ‘healthy/low fat’ and ‘taste’ characteristics. To demonstrate its health attributes, the LINK project data showed venison loin muscle contains only 1.2 per cent fat, or only one-third of that found in beef sirloin steaks, and only one-quarter of that found in lamb chops.
Venison was also much higher than other red meats in essential polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are required by the human body – six times higher in linoleic acid, and four times higher in linolenic acid. The ratio of polyunsaturated to saturated fatty acids in venison was also well above the desired health threshold. Mervyn Davies of ADAS says: “These findings are great news for British farmed venison producers and processors, and will help to raise its profile as a healthy, tasty alternative to other red meats.”
Nichola Fletcher, venison cook and food writer, says: “Farmed venison is incredibly versatile, from upmarket dishes to affordable but delicious lunch meals or innovative starters.”
The prime cuts are loin, fillet and rack, quickly roasted and served with a reduction sauce. Pink and juicy haunch steaks are fabulous thinly sliced and draped over a delicious herb salad. There is a whole range of other exciting cuts that allows the chef scope for imagination.
Venison mince can be made into tiny meatballs and served with a pomegranate sauce, or turned into a luxurious terrine. Serve melt-in-the-mouth venison liver on a bed of mashed vegetables. Venison shanks or osso buco make a fabulous rich alternative to lamb, and a venison casserole is a long-standing all-year-round favourite.
Exciting vegetable accompaniments can make venison an even more memorable dining experience. Mushrooms, aubergine, caramelised onion and carrots add succulence as well as flavour, while vegetables such as bulb fennel, perhaps in a gratin, or pomegranate, prunes, damsons and other tart fruit are good for festive winter dishes.
Once you have convinced your customers that venison is not only a healthy but very tasty alternative to ‘traditional’ red meat offerings, keep hold of the thought and – during the warmer months – bring in other lightly spiced venison offerings – perhaps a stir-fry with fennel and lime, maybe a tagine, or a steak
with raspberry sauce.
* ADAS provides independent, science-based environmental and rural consultancy and contracting services to a diverse range of organisations in the private and public
sectors, throughout the UK and internationally