For 30 years, Blackmoor has been providing game meat to some of the best hotels and restaurants in the south of England. A small farm in the rolling hills of Hampshire has been their base over that time and has seen them grow as the popularity of game meat has developed. It’s not been without its challenges though.
“We’re selling to a much wider public now than when we started out. Before it was basically landlords and people who hunted and shot; they were the only ones who ate it. Now we do farmers markets where we get young couples coming and buying partridges, pheasant, venison and the like, which they never used to do”
For the Blackmoor team, the biggest instigator of change has been the rise of the celebrity chef and the campaigning they’ve done to push the British public’s boundaries. “We can always tell when there’s been a chef on TV using game. Within 24 hours, we’ll be getting requests on the phone for that product from wholesalers and butchers through to individual customers. We’ve got them to thank for a lot of it”.
Although consumers are much more aware of the food they’re eating and its provenance, the full story is still not quite getting through to them. At farmers markets, the Blackmoor team is regualrly asked if their product is organic, which might seem a valid question to a novice. However, because all of the game they produce is wild, they would never be able to give any definitive indication of what a deer has eaten in its lifetime of roaming around the countryside. However, a wild deer shot and prepared will always be much better than a deer that’s been farmed and manually fed with organic feed. “Everything we sell is running free — we stick to wild produce throughout our business.”
When asked whether consumers are buying pre-prepared products, Chris interrupted with “this is the problem we’re having now. The bulk of pheasant and partridge meat goes out of here as skinless fillets, not the whole bird. We do wish people were buying, cooking and eating the whole bird.” They were quick to allay any blame on consumers though, citing the decreasing amount of time the average person has to prepare a whole meal from scratch. Gone are the days of the rural housewife buying a whole rabbit, hanging and skinning it herself.
“When we started, people would buy a pheasant whole with the feathers on, now we’re selling packaged stuffed pheasant breasts, ready to go in the oven. It’s what people want.”
Another reason for the increased popularity is that people don’t have to worry about hanging and skinning/plucking now. That makes it easier for consumers to buy but also gives the meat a much longer shelf-life. Game used to be delivered to businesses “in the feather” but then these companies started offloading that work back onto the supplier.
For complete pheasant novices, Jan recommends pan-fried breast with cream and sliced apple — a very simplified version of Normandy Pheasant that is utterly delicious. “Anything you can do with a chicken, you can do with a pheasant; anything you can do with beef, you can do with venison”. People tend to look and pheasants and think “oh god, what am I going to do with this?”. It seems that the mental hurdle of trying game is the biggest issue but once people try it, they come back for more.
The Blackmoor team are almost at full capacity, such is the recent renaissance. However, they are reticent about its surge in popularity and admit that this may be another of the food industry’s fickle fads but hope that, while it may not popularity of the likes of chicken in years to come, it will remain a preferred ingredient among cooks and eaters in the know.