Although hunting for meat is something our ancestors did daily, people are still ambivalent when it comes to the hunting season in Autumn. Hunting, for sport or for food, is a highly contentious subject especially in regards to other movements which are popular at the moment. There are calls to eat less meat, focus on plant-based diets, knowing the source of where food comes from and the ethical implications of eating meat.
Whatever your stance on meat, game meat is best enjoyed at this time of the year. It is growing in popularity as people are turning their backs on typical meat products we have on our plates such as beef, pork and chicken in the wake of several food scandals which have occurred in the mass-produced food industry over the past few years. We want to know where our food comes from and know that it is slaughtered respectfully.
Hunting for game to be consumed over the cold winter period is seen to be a more sustainable food choice. Many species numbers deplete over the colder months as food is scarce. Hunting a certain number of animals for our consumption could be seen to actually help the survivors to see the next spring. The Countryside Alliance perform culling to keep numbers sustainable in the wild.
Wild game meat, too, could be considered the most organic, free-range type of meat there is. It is widely acclaimed to be more flavoursome and healthier than farmed animals. This is because these animals enjoy free movement, access to their natural diet and plenty of exercise.
According to a poll commissioned by The Countryside Alliance earlier this year showing that around 85% of people have never cooked game. There are initiatives in place to decrease this number.
What is Game?
Animals such as hare, rabbit, deer and boar are considered game as well as pheasant, partridge and duck.
Game is classified into 3 categories:
- Small Birds
- Game Proper which is sub-divided into 2 categories winged game and ground game
- Big game
Most game meats can be perfectly complemented with nature’s larder. For instance, rabbit and pheasant go well with roasted root vegetables and hedgerow fruit.
Top 7 Reasons to Eat Locally Sourced Game
- Game meat is especially popular, and more easily available during the autumnal season. This is due to specific shooting seasons.
- Game has been draped in a veil of confusion, where people think it is difficult to prepare. However, many local businesses and butchers offer prepared cuts of meat for your dishes.
- Game meat is suitable for paleo diets.
- It is hormone-free and antibiotic-free meat.
- It encourages environmental conservation. It is estimated that the wild game industry spends over a quarter of a million pounds on conservation a year and 2 million hectares of land are actively managed.
- It has low food miles.
- It’s healthy!
How to Enjoy Game
Game meat is regarded to be the sustainable choice when it comes to eating meat. It is also a way to ensure you can eat locally sourced products. The health benefits are numerous too. Game is generally lower in fat as animals are more active in the wild. It is a good source of iron, zinc and has a good content of omegas 3 and 6 fatty acids. Salmon is also one of the top sources of this, but venison has an optimum ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids making it one of the healthiest meat choices.
The official game season starts on the Glorious Twelfth, which occurs annually on August 12th and signals the 121-day-long grouse shooting season. It has been an integral part of the countryside calendar for decades and was once just reserved for the aristocratic society. These days, the shooting season has been at the centre of a debate over animal welfare and class wars.
There are 2 types of Partridge in the UK: the native grey partridge and the red-legged partridge which originates from southern Europe. The native grey partridge has delicate, tender flesh which is full of flavour. One bird feeds one person.
Enjoy partridge as a one-pot dish with bacon, chestnuts and Brussels sprouts.
Venison is the name given to meat which comes from deer breeds. The most common varieties of deer in the UK are Red, Fallow and Roe. Venison is good value for money in terms of the quality, health benefits and amount you get.
Venison is popularly substituted for beef in many recipes. The meat from the saddle, loin and haunch are lean so it needs careful cooking. Tougher cuts from the shoulder or neck should be cooked longer in stews or made into mince to make venison sausages or burgers.
Wild rabbit is a better choice than farmed rabbit which can be fatty and bland tasting. Wild rabbits have a firm, meaty texture and are best enjoyed between August and February. Their flesh should be firm and pinky-brown. coloured. You can buy them whole or ask your butcher to joint it for you.
Rabbit meat can be difficult to cook in terms of keeping the meat moist so its best to cook rabbit in dishes such as casseroles, stews and other slow-cooking recipes. Alternatively, rabbit’s gamey flavour is great in pies and terrines.
There are many places you can get locally caught game from, but here are our top picks on the Foodful blog.
Established in 1991, Ridley’s Fish & Game is family-run business based at Acomb near Hexham offering a range of fish and game meat products. They are at Hexham Market every Tuesday and Saturday and Morpeth Market on 1st Saturday of every month.
Ridley’s Game & Fish have won several Great Taste Awards for their products. The grouse and venison are sourced locally. Also available are guinea fowl, quail, pheasants, pigeons, rabbits and squirrel.
Committed to selling game meat to the wider public, Hadrian’s Game Larder create a variety of game-based products including pheasant sausages, venison pies and much more. The game scotch eggs are particularly popular at Farmers Markets.
Kezie Foods Ltd stock a large range of game products all year-round including Venison, Pheasant, Partridge and Pigeon. The meat is sourced from estates all over the UK and manufactured in their state-of-the-art food production facility in Duns, Scottish Borders. Kezie Foods offer a wide variety of meat products, including exotic meats. Their game meat selection includes:
- feathered game which includes: wood pigeon, Barbary duck, quail and guinea fowl
- mixed game includes wild boar
Why not try their game pies which can be found in their butcher shop or in local pubs such as The Curfew in Berwick-upon-Tweed or Rutherford’s in Kelso. The meat in the game pie includes locally sourced venison, pheasant breast, brown hare, rabbit and pigeon.
Foreman‘s offer meat from wild Red and Roe deer varieties which are shot by professional stalkers. The Red Deer is from Inverness but the Roe Deer comes from a 30-mile radius from Ancroft and Berrington Farms in Northumberland and Milne Graden Estate, Coldstream and Blackadder Mount Farm, Allanton in the Scottish Borders. They supply various cuts including saddle, haunch, chops and stewing meat as well as wild Roe Deer sausages!
Also available is wild boar meat.
You can purchase their products at Peebles Food Market which is on every Saturday. On offer is a range of game meat products including steaks, sausages and charcuterie.
You can also get in contact with the business to arrange hunting trips for several types of game.
Burnside Farm Foods is an award-winning company based in Scottish Borders. The estate is near Kelso and goes back to the 12th century. Burnside Farm Foods was established in 1986 and has been supplying local produce to Scotland’s top chefs.
Some products are only available seasonally such as the Border Grouse, but many are available throughout the year such as partridge, pheasant, wood pigeon, mallard, quail, hare, rabbit and Roe Deer.
You can also enjoy game charcuterie. Products include:
- Roe Deer Cured in Edinburgh Gin & Juniper
- Whiskey Infused Oak Smoked Roe Deer
Farm to Freeze is situated in Wooler and offers a wide range of meat products. There has been a high demand by customers for locally sourced products and Farm to Freeze are aiming to keep up with the demand by sourcing meat from local farms. The business has been established since 1981 and has always put quality at the forefront of everything they do.
Pheasants, rabbits and deer, are caught from the famous locally at Lilburn Estates which is only 5 miles from the Farm to Freeze shop.
Also, available products include:
- Game Pie Mix
- Young partridge
Are You Pheasantly Surprised?
Discover local game alternatives to the usual meat you use. Remember to check whether your game has been shot with lead bullets. Since 2012, the FSA has advised people to minimise lead intake especially in regards to vulnerable groups. Not all game is shot with lead, it is just best to check.
Great British Game Week runs from 19th – 25th November and is a great opportunity to celebrate locally sourced game products.