‘Putting venison on consumers’ tables’

Carnivore Gourmet Meat, part of the Recreation Africa group, plans to bring venison onto South African consumer tables as it has never been brought before. It believes there is a huge opportunity in this – and in reversing consumer perceptions that game meat is tough and smelly, says Michael Losos, the company’s general manager.
The possibility exists of doing something similar in other African countries where game meat is plentiful and sustainable. The Recreation Africa group owns various restaurants in South Africa, including the Carnivore Restaurant near Johannesburg, which is well known among South Africans and tourists for its venison offerings. Carnivore Restaurant is an associate of the Carnivore group of restaurants in Kenya and Egypt.
The Carnivore Restaurant concept offers five different types of game meat at any time, in a banquet atmosphere, with the meat cooked in large quantities before the guests.
But recently Carnivore in South Africa decided to expand its venison horizons by supplying other hotels and restaurants, and marketing venison to consumers generally.
Losos believes a wider venison business could do well as long as gross profit margins are watched, the correct meats are offered, and the customer base is extended. Dinnermates
To pursue its new vision Carnivore Gourmet Meat bought a butchery near Rustenburg, one of South Africa’s game production areas. It revamped and extended it with the installation of more cold rooms and freezer capacity, and a larger production area. The butchery is currently two-stream – it handles both livestock and game.
The butchery also produces pâté – made from flesh rather than liver – in Kudu, Impala, Ostrich, Springbok, Wildebeest and Crocodile variants. The pâté is canned by a contract packer and sold in restaurants and curio shops.
Now, a low-throughput abattoir is being built at the butchery, to slaughter livestock and cut skin-in game which is bought in.
Another deli butchery is being planned for construction, closer to Johannesburg. This may be the start of a chain of butcheries.
‘Tough and smelly’
Losos says all venison is, if slaughtered correctly, tender – more tender, in fact, than beef because of its shorter fibre structure.
He says that many consumers believe venison is tough and smelly because they are familiar only with game meat which is not shot correctly.
"The problem with unskilled/unprofessional hunters is that the animal is normally shot in the body, and often shot twice. This means that the animal’s adrenalin (which is composed of amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine) shoots up and its pH is raised. This taints the meat."  He says that measurements of pH have shown that it is generally much higher in unprofessionally-shot meat than in animals culled professionally for the game meat industry.
Typically when an animal is shot by an unprofessional hunter it runs for a few metres, then falls, so there is time for adrenaline to pump. Generally the animal is not bled because the skin is required without too many cuts, and there is also a long delay before the carcass is refrigerated. Adrenaline thus permeates thoroughly into the flesh. In these cases, adrenaline creates a strong "gamey" taste and smell.
But in cases where adrenaline does not play such a role, venison has subtle tastes, differing between species, but sometimes similar to more tasty grades of organic beef, says Losos.
By contrast, culling of game, which has long been done in South Africa for production of meat for the export market, is a quicker and cleaner process. Culling may be from a vehicle (often with wildebeest) or from a helicopter. The shooters are excellent marksmen and generally shoot the animal in the head or neck (called A or B shots), felling it with one shot. The shooting is done with silencers at night, when the animals are relatively relaxed; the quarry and its fellows know little about what has happened.
The shot animal is generally immediately hung up by its hind legs on a tripod in a mobile, tented abattoir under lights, and bled and skinned. After skinning, the carcass is immediately transferred to refrigerated trucks.
All this results in excellent-quality venison meat. However, this kind of slaughtering is expensive – it can cost over $0.30/kg of meat produced.
In beef abattoirs, often cattle are stood for a day or two after arrival and before slaughter in order to allow their adrenalin to subside.
Despite the generally higher costs of slaughter of game for meat (whether done professionally or unprofessionally), venison generally sells at a large discount to beef in South Africa.
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