The opportunity to chew the fat with a fellow foodie is always welcome – and this certainly proved to be the case last week when I popped in at Seriously Good Venison’s state-of-the-art production premises at Jamesfield organic farm, near Abernethy, for a chat with dynamic company director Vikki Banks as the run-up to Crail Food Festival begins. On reflection, it would be more appropriate to describe our discussion as “chewing the lean”, since Vikki is quick to point out that one of venison’s major attributes is its incredibly low fat content.
“Venison is high in omega 3 and high in iron – so it’s good for mums-to-be,” she explains, adding enthusiastically, “And it contains less fat than skinless chicken breasts!” This is sweet music to the ears of Yours Truly, who is extremely fond of venison. Confirmation that it is one of the healthiest meats around means that in future I can ladle it on to my plate with a crystal clear conscience.
A fine food aficionado with an impressive track record in mail order, Vikki began her career working at Scotland Direct in 1996. After that she consolidated and widened her retail experience by running her own online speciality food company for several years in partnership with a friend. In September 2009, she joined Fletchers of Auchtermuchty as a manager, initially working alongside owners John and Nichola Fletcher before buying them out completely on 31st March last year.
Vikki speaks with a genuine passion about deer. She points to her computer screen, where the background photo features a strapping stag called “Rascal”, of whom she is evidently particularly fond. “He’ll never end up on a plate,” she says firmly, although she proceeds to tell me candidly about her state-of-the-art butchery facilities which we can see clearly from her office window. As we talk, Master Butcher Paul Douglas and his QMS apprentice Andrew McKeen are busy preparing and packing meat for a forthcoming local farmers’ market. Most Seriously Good venison (47%) is sold directly to customers at such markets; 28% is sold online, having been cut to order and vacuum packed; and the remainder is sold on a wholesale basis.
When she took over the business from the Fletchers, Vikki was keen to retain the impeccable welfare systems which the company founders had already put in place at their farm at Reediehill, near Auchtermuchty. So the deer are still culled out in the field by a single shot to the head, thus avoiding the stress of them being rounded up and transported in a lorry to the alien environment of an abattoir.
This aspect of Seriously Good Venison’s deer husbandry is not only beneficial from a welfare point of view; it also ensures the meat is exceptionally tender, as there is no rush of toughening, stress-induced adrenalin.
The deer at Reediehill are out at grass all year round, with the calves being weaned from their mothers before winter and kept indoors during the coldest winter months to build up their strength. They are put out to grass again, usually around April, and then live free range on the extensive pastures. They are given no antibiotics, so the meat does not require a withdrawal period. Moreover, it is hung traditionally and is “trimmed within an inch of its life” (to quote Vikki!) to ensure optimal quality and flavour.
The recent press circus surrounding meat contamination held no fears for Vikki, whose products follow a clear provenance path from the field to her FSA-approved butchery facility. “In the past month, we’ve had inspections from the EHO (Environmental Health Officers) and the Food Standards Agency,” she tells me, smiling and relaxed. “But they’re welcome to come whenever they like, as we’re definitely not hiding any horses here!”
Asked if she feels the horsemeat crisis has had a tangible impact on her business, she replies: “Well, we certainly haven’t had to push our product. I think people are understandably becoming more discerning when buying meat, and that’s very much in our favour.”
When I enquire about what the future is likely to hold for Seriously Good Venison, Vikki talks excitedly about her plans to move the herd to a new home near Cupar, Fife, in the coming months. She will also be undertaking a re-branding exercise, which will see Seriously Good Beef and Seriously Good Lamb added to the company’s product portfolio.
Of course, it would have been rude to leave without purchasing a couple of packs of venison – purely for research purposes, of course… Naturally I ask Vikki, being the expert in such matters, for a couple of suggestions and she recommends serving the steaks with either a blue cheese sauce (see recipe below) or a rowan jelly jus. Back at home, a family vote came out in favour of the latter, so that’s what was on the menu chez Sparrow last Friday evening. As a result, I can happily confirm that Seriously Good Venison more than lives up to its name!
Free download: SGV Steak tips for you to Download
Free recipe for you: Haunch Steaks in blue cheese sauce
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This article has been submitted to Crail Food Festival by food, family and lifestyle blogger SquareSparrow. You can read more by visiting http://square-sparrow.blogspot.co.uk/ or join me on http://www.facebook.com/square.sparrow or send me a Tweet @SquareSparrow.