A whole new ball game
Australians are looking for more exotic offerings than beef, pork, lamb and chicken these days.
Australians are looking for more exotic offerings than beef, pork, lamb and chicken these days. ONLY a few years ago you could take a look at any supermarket meat section or the window of your local butcher and deduce the only meats Australians ate were beef, pork, lamb and chicken. These staples have been joined recently by ''new'' products - kangaroo, for one, or maybe farmed rabbit or goat.And in some specialist supermarkets and delicatessens you might find a small range of exotic meat sausages - perhaps wild boar or buffalo. But as a representation of the meat actually available, it's a pretty limited showing.At Wangara Poultry and Game, beef, lamb, pork and chicken are just part of an offering that includes venison, buffalo, camel, crocodile, possum, wallaby, emu, wild rabbit, hare and boar, as well as a large range of game poultry.Nash Cowie looks after sales for the company, started 25 years ago by his father, Michael Cowie, and says the market for game is slowly growing. Originally a way of distributing the chicken and eggs from their Echuca farm, Wangara gradually began adding more products to its list, often by customer request, and is now one of a handful of Victorian distributors of these exotic and unusual meats.Some of his best customers are Asian (crocodile meat is particularly prized by the Chinese for its health-giving properties) and people with a European background. Although Cowie supplies mostly to retailers and restaurants, home cooks are increasingly finding their way to the Kensington warehouse to buy direct.''Kangaroo has been accepted for a while and there's no shortage of supply and venison is probably the next to take off. Chefs are becoming more interested in game and lots of pubs are now taking on game meats too,'' Cowie says.Salvatore Caccioppoli, head chef at Carlton's Scopri, says game has always been popular in Italy, particularly in the mountainous regions where hunting is common. He says pappardelle with wild hare ragu, currently on the restaurant's menu, is a very well-known dish in Tuscany. ''But you need some skill with game,'' he says. "The hare is cooked slowly for three to four hours after steeping in red wine overnight the venison must be cooked rare.''Caccioppoli says game is received very well at Scopri, for which he credits the selling skill of the floor staff and the fact that regulars trust the food will be good. How does he know they like it? ''When regulars try the hare, the plates always come back clean,'' he says with a laugh.While the Europeans may have given us a taste for venison, wild boar, rabbit and hare, the increased popularity of goat in Melbourne has more to do with the city's growing Middle Eastern and African populations. But despite demand, goat can be hard to find. Although it is produced on a large scale in Victoria and in other states, most of the meat is destined for export, so local supply can be inconsistent. Rick Cavedon, of The Game Meat Company in Eurobin, says only 5 per cent of his annual production is destined for the domestic market and many other producers he knows operate the same way.Camel can also be hard to find, despite the fact Australia has the world's largest wild population (see breakout). Cowie hasn't been able to source camel for eight months and when it is available he usually has to buy the whole animal, so he needs to know he can sell every part of it.This lack of supply is one of the reasons some of these meats have not become more staple parts of our diet. Small production means limited supply, high prices and a lack of infrastructure to support the kind of marketing and exposure that creates demand. And low domestic demand means producers often focus on the more lucrative export market.One company that wants to grow locally is Flinders Island Meat. Executive director James Madden began selling the island's pasture-fed wallaby in August after buying and rebuilding the island's abattoir. The wallabies are wild but return to the same pastures to feed every day.''They're fussy eaters, they like to eat the farmer's best pasture,'' he says. Madden is marketing the wallaby to high-end restaurants as a unique product.Often compared to kangaroo, Madden says wallaby is a finer and milder game meat, sometimes confused with lamb. He's pleased at the interest so far, with many of Melbourne's best restaurants committed to showcasing the product.''Twenty years ago they tried to launch wallaby in Victoria but it fell over,'' he says. ''But chefs and customers are more adventurous now. There's a real interest in using local products. Wallabies are carbon neutral, too, there's no methane gas. It's one of the things I love about them.''----For tastes less tameVENISONCONSIDERED the most accessible of the game meats, venison has always been part of the European diet. Local venison is in demand, especially with restaurants during the traditional winter season. Velvet and horn from deer antlers are prized by the Chinese community for their health-giving properties. Australia has a good supply of deer and two types of deer meat, red and fallow, with red deer meat richer and gamier than the more delicate fallow.Try An amuse bouche of crisp, dried venison meat sandwiching venison tartare at Vue de Monde, city. 9691 3888.Boneless venison osso buco, with porcini jus and spaetzle, from the degustation menu at Jorg, Fitzroy North. 9482 3002.WILD BOARWILD boar is found mainly in Queensland, although some roam into northern New South Wales. Hunted under licence, they are prized for their flavour, described by Wangara's Nash Cowie as ''pork with added punch''.Try Wild boar braised with white wine, chestnuts and radicchio at Cafe di Stasio, St Kilda. 9525 3999.Wild boar sausage with ale and lentil gravy, savoy cabbage and parsnip mash at the Middle Park Hotel. 9690 1958. The hotel also does a whole beast game roast for groups of six or more - the choice of meat is up to you.At home Mix equal amounts of ground wild boar and beef mince to make hamburgers and grill over the barbecue. Serve with all the usual accompaniments and a spicy, fruity chutney. Or marinate a boned and butterflied wild boar leg in cajun flavours overnight to tenderise and barbecue until smoky and dark on the outside and just cooked inside.CAMELTHE camel population in Australia is estimated to be anywhere from 600,000 to 1 million but, despite increasing demand for the meat and almost unlimited supply, getting camel to market has proven difficult so you're unlikely to see it at the supermarket for a few years yet. Tasting like a lighter version of beef, camel has a mild and delicate flavour, a little like veal but with a sweetish aftertaste.Try The Royal Mail on Spencer's roadkill menu next month will feature camel sourced direct from Coober Pedy by owner Peter Moore. Call ahead to check for availability. Royal Mail on Spencer, city. 9329 6955.At home Think of camel as a substitute for veal and use it in very thin slices for a camel tonnato or as carpaccio.BUFFALOSIMILAR to beef but with a slightly sweeter, gamier flavour and darker flesh, buffalo meat is now produced in Victoria. Awareness of buffalo has been slow to build but is steadily gaining interest.At home Cook osso buco using Victorian grass-fed, young farmed buffalo from Wangara. Minimum order two kilograms.WILD RABBITALTHOUGH farmed rabbit has been widely available since the 1990s, wild rabbit became harder to find after the release of the calicivirus in 1996. Many people are now used to the milder flavour and whiter flesh of farmed rabbits, so the stronger taste and darker colour of wild rabbit comes as a (welcome) surprise.Try An entree of braised wild rabbit in a pastry cigar with apple chutney and smoked dill and prosciutto roulade at Yering Station, Yarra Glen. 9730 0100.Wild rabbit, leek and prune pie at the European, city. 9654 0811.EMUNATURALLY deep-red in colour, emu is one of the gamiest meats on the market, so it can be a hard sell for people unused to its rich, meaty taste. As a result, marketers tend to focus on its health properties - it's very low in fat and kilojoules and high in protein and iron. (Ostrich, often likened to emu but stronger in flavour, used to be more widely available but Nash Cowie says his sales dived in favour of emu as its popularity grew.)Try Sauteed emu fillet in a spicy sauce at Plume, Doncaster, 9840 1122.WILD HARESTRONGER and gamier than wild rabbit, wild hare has a rich, dark meat well suited to slow cooking. Sourced throughout Victoria, wild hare isn't as plentiful as wild rabbit but both animals are available all year.Try Wild hare ragu served with chestnut flour pappardelle at Scopri, Carlton. 9347 8252.WALLABYIT IS said that if kangaroo is the equivalent of beef, then wallaby is the indigenous version of veal. A finer texture than kangaroo, it has a delicate flavour and is more forgiving, so you can cook it for longer without the meat becoming tough.Try Wild harvested wallaby carpaccio with native pepper, toasted macadamia, bush tomato and cured egg, or a special of wallaby fillet with white asparagus cream, charred green asparagus, wattleseed oil and wild blueberries (pictured). Both at Sarti, city. 9639 7822.POSSUMPOSSUM has always been an important part of the indigenous diet and used to be more widely eaten. Likened to rabbit in flavour, possum features in recipes for stews and braises in many Tasmanian and New Zealand cookbooks, where interest in the meat is having something of a revival.Try Possum meat rarely makes an appearance on restaurant menus, although a push to get Australians to eat more of this environmentally sustainable meat may see this change. Your best bet is to cook it at home. Try it in a braise or ragu or add the possum chipolata sausages made by Tasmania's Lenah Game Meats (ask your butcher to order them) to your next barbecue.CROCODILEFARMED in far north Queensland, free-range crocodile meat has a delicate flavour and is likened to lean pork or chicken. Very low in fat and high in protein, crocodile should be cooked quickly then rested to prevent the meat drying out and becoming tough.Try Sauteed fillet of crocodile at the Mask of China, city. 9662 2116.Vietnamese crocodile stir-fry at Song Huong, St Albans. 9356 0567.At home Crocodile goes well with lime, coconut and mild spices, so it works nicely in south-east Asian dishes. Try using it in a Thai green curry or marinate it in lime juice, chilli, fish sauce and sugar before grilling on skewers.KANGAROO and GOAT are widely available. The best place to find goat meat is at the markets or at halal butchers, many of which can be found in Sydney Road, Brunswick and Coburg, and in Preston. Or ask your butcher or supermarket to source them for you. Cowie says kangaroo is a good starting point for people new to game meats, especially in summer, cooked on the barbecue. SuppliersWangara Poultry & GameOffering one of the widest range of game meats in Melbourne, Wangara stocks almost all the meat in our game guide, although supplies of some varieties may be limited or must be ordered. Open Monday to Friday only.1/321 Arden Street, Kensington, 9376 8188, wangaragame.com.au.Yarra Valley Game MeatsYarra Valley Game Meats sells venison, emu, camel, buffalo, kangaroo, wild boar and game birds wholesale but it also has a farm gate to buy direct (by appointment only). See gamemeats .com.au for a full product listing or ask your butcher to order for you.65 Heath Road, Healesville, 5962 5175.GamekeepersFlinders Ranges venison, wild hare, farmed rabbits, kangaroo, goat, game birds, beef, lamb and pork.57 Beazley Road, Cardinia, 5998 8188. Order direct viagamekeepersmeat.com.au.Leo's Fine Food & WineLeo's stocks rabbit, venison, emu, crocodile and kangaroo, as well as a range of game sausages and game poultry. Not all meats are available at all stores but can be ordered.Leo's is at Heidelberg, Kew and Hartwell. See lemaxgroup.com.au.The Chicken PantryPossum (ordered in advance), rabbit, kangaroo, hare, camel, crocodile and emu, buffalo and kangaroo sausages.Shop 85-86, Dairy Produce Hall, Queen Victoria Market, 9329 6417.