Wild About Food?

Love local food? Passionate about provenance and reducing food miles? More and more people are demanding locally-sourced food and, as a result, Scotland’s leading restaurants and hotels are embracing wild food – especially game – as never before. We take a look at venison and grouse – two of Scotland’s wildest delicacies …

Venison has long been recognised as a healthy red meat option – and Scottish venison is among the very best in the world. We are now in deer stalking season (August 1st – October 20th) – with stalking used by farms and estates across the country to manage our wild deer population. The result, wild deer is now on more menus than ever before. We asked Mike Robinson, co-founder of The Wild Fork and one of the UK’s most prominent game chefs, to explain more …

“In the UK, the beautiful deer have no natural predators, and so controlled culling is required to maintain a healthy population of the animal, as well as to reduce crop damage caused by deer. Deer culling is not a random act, but chosen deer are selectively culled based on age and gene pools in the correct season, resulting in a population of younger, healthier animals. Not all stalks are successful, however; at the forefront of every deer stalkers mind is the safe and humane way in which deer are culled; if a humane shot cannot be taken, the stalker will not shoot.

With wild food being the ultimate organic produce, the meat from the deer; venison, has many proven health benefits. Unlike other red meats and due to it’s active lifestyle, venison is low fat, high in protein and has a low cholesterol content making it a healthier choice of meat. Being very rich in Vitamin B12 and B6, venison has also been linked to preventing homocysteine, which can be responsible for damaging blood vessels, contributing to many conditions such as atherosclerosis and heart disease. Iron content in venison is found to be higher than in beef, which aids the prevention of anaemia and promotes the growth of red blood cells. Finally, because of to the wild food that deer graze on, the small amount of fat in venison is likely to contain high levels of conjugated linoleic acid, which is thought to protect against heart disease and cancer.

With deer stalking, there are many misconceptions which often leave people feeling unsure about the process. Social media generates a lot of negative connotations surrounding the topic, which often are unreasonable, as well as untrue. Although there is a small part of deer stalking which involves generating income for the managements process through selecting deer with impressive antlers as part of a purchased package, this is a minute part of deer stalking and the majority of stalked deer are shot for the table, and to control numbers/reduce damage to the environment. There are many differences between trophy hunting and deer managing, and the blanket which covers both should be lifted to allow people to see the benefits of deer stalking and culling. Due to lack of information, people often don’t see the careful selection of animals, care to ensure deer are treated humanely as well as benefits to our environment and healthy diet.”

The demand for the meat has led to an increase in farmed venison – and Scotland has always been at the forefront of the industry. In 1969, an experimental deer farm was started at Glensaugh, near Fettercairn. The farm still exists. In 1973, Scotland’s first fully commercial deer farm began in Fife: today, the country has close to 30 deer farms – from Orkney to the Borders. Produce from these – as well as wild deer – can now be found on menus of leading restaurants across Scotland. For those keen to cook, you can also find wild and farmed Scottish venison at farmers’ markets and farm shops up and down the country.

Here are a few of the outlets across the country where you can buy the best …

Rothiemurchus near Aviemore    HM Sheridan in Ballater    The Oyster Shed on Skye    Macbeth’s in Forres

John Davidson’s of Inverurie    West Highland Hunting in Kilchoan    Ardardan at Cardoss in Argyll & Bute

Seriously Good Venison from Perth    Hopetoun Farm Shop at Newton near Edinburgh (EH52 6QZ)

Carmichael Farm Shop of Biggar    Millbank Parkland Venison, near Lockerbie    The Blackface Meat Company near Dumfries


Glorious Game

The ‘glorious 12th’ is upon us. To us, few things are better than local produce served in award-winning eateries … businesses that recruit, train and employ local talent. Scotland’s food & drink industry is world renowned for its quality – and, more than ever, that extends to wild ingredients.

The Scottish Game Fair at Scone Palace near Perth attracted over 30,000 to this summer’s event. Ahead of the gathering, leading chefs from across Scotland launched a campaign to encourage more folk to enjoy the very best from Scotland’s larder – and that’s reflected in survey after survey that puts food & drink experiences at the very top of visitors’ wish lists of things to do when coming to Scotland. Add to that the health benefits of wild game versus factory-farmed  alternatives and it is easy to see why our wild food is more popular than ever on menus across the country.

Roast grouse has less than a third of the fat and twice the protein of chicken. It is also packed with flavour as the birds graze in the wild. The bird’s popularity has been given a boost – not least of all because of the recent successes of Scottish contestants, Lorna Robertson and Brodie Williams, on BBC’s MasterChef. Lorna and Brodie reached the final five – and both served up main courses including grouse.

Ochil Foods in Auchterarder are one the region’s leading suppliers. They work with grouse shoots across Perthshire to supply leading restaurants close to home and further afield. The reason grouse is so popular? First and foremost is taste, but customers choose wild food because it is seen as seasonal, sustainable and safe: you know what you are eating has been sourced nearby – often from wild, open landscapes.


Chefs serving grouse this season?

Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles

Carina Contini at Contini George Street, Cannonball Restaurant & Bar and the Scottish Café – all in Edinburgh

Mark Greenaway at Restaurant Mark Greenaway in Edinburgh

Martin Wishart at The Honours in Edinburgh, Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond and Restaurant Martin Wishart


Please take care … and be aware!

Climbing, walking, cycling or exploring the great outdoors? This is a living, breathing and working landscape. Please take care and be aware that the landscape around you is managed by a very wide range of folk who work hard to ensure it is open for all to enjoy. As our Blog reports, deer stalking is an ancient and essential part of the management of Scotland’s landscape. The stalking season runs until October 20th. For information, please check the Scottish Outdoor Access Code website.

Thanks go to Shannon Robinson at SLR Photography for the foodie images from the Wild Fork blog.
Thanks for reading.