Venison took a big hit as a result of the pandemic, but now consumers are being called upon to help the sector through their own kitchens.
Usually, at this time of year, we’d be spoiled for choice in restaurants when it comes to venison.
But with both the deer stalking and hospitality sectors having faced numerous challenges these past few months, as a result of the pandemic, the sector is beginning to struggle and consumers are being called upon to introduce the meat more frequently into their home kitchens.
Richard Playfair, secretary at the Scottish Venison Association says the sector is only just getting back on track having been thrown off course by this year’s coronavirus lockdown.
He says: “Since the restaurant, catering and hotel side of things has effectively been shut down for six months because of Covid, and is only now getting back on its feet but only at a fraction of its former capacity, then the markets where the product from the current cull is going to go are severely restricted this year.
“The game dealers have been requesting deer managers to actually try and flatten out the peaks in the cull, so that they don’t suddenly get an onset of a huge amount of venison coming through from now through until October. That will give it some opportunity to get to market, rather than for there to be a huge backlog.
“There have been quite a few setbacks that the whole sector is having to contend with, but it’s not all doom and gloom as there have been some opportunities to have risen out of it. Some dealers and small processors have upscaled the mail order side of things. I know one whose mail orders have increased by 300% but that doesn’t cover what they would’ve been putting out into the restaurant trade.
“A wedding with 400 guests in a hotel might actually serve up 400 venison fillets, for one event. That’s one hotel but the same thing might be happening at a couple of hotels in Scotland each week, who are hosting something like that. These functions and events just haven’t happened this year.”
The whole event sector collapsing has really impacted quite seriously on the hospitality end of the market.
Richard Playfair, Scottish Venison Association
Venison suppliers are also facing competition from cut-price imports.
Richard explained: “I guess we’re saying the sector isn’t as busy as it normally is. Everyone globally is in the same position in terms of venison production. For example, in New Zealand, their venison prices effectively halved and the UK historically has imported quite a lot of venison from New Zealand. It’s now been importing less and less over the previous five years but we have been importing it at a premium price. We don’t know what’s going to happen now that price has suddenly become more attractive.
“We’re optimistic that we have the capacity to fill that vacuum if New Zealand product isn’t coming in. We’ve also got a slowly expanding farm sector but that’s still tiny by comparison – only 3% of total UK volume comes from Scottish farms, so it’s the wild side where the big consequences lie.”
But all is not lost as venison producers are turning to consumers, in the hope that with more encouragement to cook and eat venison at home, the sector can get up to full speed again.
Anne-Marie Bain, director at Aberdeenshire Larder, says that venison need not be an intimidating meat to introduce into our diets.
She says: “Some people are apprehensive about game meat, as they think it’s going to have a very strong taste. I would recommend starting perhaps with a game burger: at Aberdeenshire Larder we make lots of different burgers with Scottish wild venison – they’re a real hit with all of the family.
“Alternatively, if someone would like to try something a little more adventurous, I would recommend Scottish wild roe deer venison: it’s the smaller type of venison that naturally inhabits lowland areas of Scotland. The meat is highly prized by chefs for its delicate flavour, as it grazes naturally on lowland pastures.
Everyone’s first port of call should be their local butcher: your local butcher is likely to stock Scottish wild venison (rather than imported farmed venison).
Anne-Marie Bain, Aberdeenshire Larder
“Your local butcher can also help you with what cut of meat would suit the type of dish that you would like to cook and may also be able to recommend how to cook it. The Scottish Craft Butcher’s Association is currently promoting Scottish wild venison throughout their members, with recipe ideas and guides.
“Your local butcher will have taken care to source their game safely, on your behalf, from a Food Standards Scotland-approved plant, where everything is checked to ensure it’s safe to eat.”
Richard also highlights that a solution to helping the sector is encouraging consumers to eat more venison over these crucial few weeks.
“We see the solution lying in encouraging consumers to consume more venison. We did some research on where the main venison consumers are last year and we know they’re based in London, the south-east of England, and Scotland. We also know that a lot of older people buy venison, as well as people who are looking for a healthy alternative.
“There’s that great tag about venison being the healthiest red meat, which it is. So we have some really good stuff to build on and I think the solution in this is to encourage those who are already familiar with venison to buy more. It is becoming available in a broader range of outlets and we’ve just seen Highland Game put on this tremendous promotion through Tesco.
“We’re also seeing other things happening like venison mince. When the lockdown started there was a real upsurge in people buying mince, but venison mince has always been something that hasn’t actually been top of the list.
“If we can, we’d also like to encourage existing consumers to buy more and experiment with different types of venison cut and to encourage those who haven’t tried it to give it a go.
It seems that a lot of consumers are used to having venison in restaurants but are slightly concerned or unsure when it comes to cooking it at home. There is a load of good information on the Scottish venison website, including a load of recipes.
“The saving of the sector really lies on not putting quantities in storage and saving it for next year, but actually as we’re in the period now where we’ve traditionally always eaten game, through to after Christmas, getting the consumer to think about it and go out and find it – whether they buy it online, through their local butcher or from a supermarket shelf. If it’s not Scottish venison, that shouldn’t stop people from buying it just to get a taste for venison would be good.
“Venison is in season all through the year. A lot of the retailers have driven this as they don’t want a product that sits on their shelf for just a month. They want to say, ‘well it’s here today and it will still be here in March next year’. That’s why there has always been a window for imported venison – to enable the big retailers to have a supply of venison all year round.”
Highland Game’s Venison Steak with Sun-Dried Tomato and Basil Butter
Do not be tempted to over cook this – it will just go tough but when cooked RARE or MEDIUM, the venison remains tender and juicy.Venison steak benefits from being rested for 10 minutes once cooked. If you don’t have a griddle, a heavy-based frying pan will do instead – you just won’t have the griddle marks.
- 175g unsalted butter, softened
- 3 tbsp finely shredded fresh basil
- 6 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and finely sliced
- 2 tbsp parmesan cheese, grated
- 2 x Highland Game Venison Steaks
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 150g cherry tomatoes on the vine
- Balsamic vinegar
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- First make the savoury butter. Beat the butter until really soft, then beat in the remaining ingredients. Shape into a log and wrap in cling film. Chill for at least an hour until hard, or freeze. The butter will freeze for up to 3 months.
- Heat a griddle pan until smoking hot. Rub the venison with a little olive oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put the venison on the hot griddle to sear for 2-3 minutes then turn the heat down to medium and griddle with out moving for another 2-3 minutes.
- Turn over and cook for a further 3 minutes. This is for RARE, cook for 2-3 minutes longer for MEDIUM. Transfer to a plate and cover loosely with foil and leave in a warm place close to the oven for 10 minutes to allow the venison to relax and the juices to redistribute through the meat.
- Meanwhile, return the griddle to a medium heat and add 1 tbsp. of olive oil. Add the tomatoes to the pan and cook for 3-4 minute, shaking the pan occasionally, until they soften and begin to colour, but remain whole. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar and bubble for 1 minute.
- Serve the steaks with the griddles tomatoes and their juices. Slice the butter thinly and put a couple of slices on top of each steak to serve.