Oh deer! Consumers go wild for salami

Fair Game Wild Venison's Jonas Widjaja finds strong demand for venison products

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A former primary school teacher is transforming wild-harvested deer.

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Jonas Widjaja of Fair Game Wild Venison from Goolmangar.

Jonas Widjaja of Fair Game Wild Venison from Goolmangar.

A novel idea to create a supply chain for wild-harvested deer products in northern NSW is proving so successful that founder Jonas Widjaja is now in the early stages of establishing a cured meat range to further attract consumers.

The former primary school teacher and landscape architect runs Fair Game Wild Venison from Goolmangar, outside of Lismore, and began selling products in March this year.

The business started as an idea six or seven years ago in New Zealand when Mr Widjaja noticed his restaurateur friends were using excess meat from the trophy deer hunting scene in their meals.

Initially Mr Widjaja wanted more Australians to understand the ethical use of the animal for human consumption and donated meat to local soup kitchens.

The Wild Venison Salami product. Photo: Savour Foods Tasmania

The Wild Venison Salami product. Photo: Savour Foods Tasmania

Now he buys about 20 deer each week, contracting field harvesters who provide a whole carcase with skin to a field depot before it is initially processed near Stanthorpe and sent to Mr Widjaja to be divided accordingly.

Everything from the heart, liver, kidney and whole muscles, to the hides and antlers are then on-sold by Mr Widjaja or through Hand Sourced in Queensland.

Most recently he partnered with artesian smallgoods company, Salumi Australia, to produce a wild venison salami.

"The way I've tried to manage being a bit of a boutique and artisan offering is by ensuring I've got a way where there is no waste," Mr Widjaja said.

"The thing is a lot of the issues that you have with trying to sell meat is the fact you have a short shelf life and you have got lots of separate cuts.

He also offers a venison sausage, meaty broth bones and a femur bone for marrow.

He also offers a venison sausage, meaty broth bones and a femur bone for marrow.

"I've definitely worked out there is a different market for the different cuts in terms of pricing but also, there is a way to use the meat and salami, so there isn't any waste either."

The second batch of salami is almost complete and will be sold through Bay Grocer at Byron Bay, Secret Chef Deli in Lismore, Eltham Valley Pantry at Eltham, The Stores Grocer in Brisbane and the Salumi Australia deli in Sydney.

Mr Widjaja said unlike traditional salami, the venison product didn't leave a greasy residue in your mouth after eating.

"The one I'm making at the moment is a really clean crisp flavour," he said.

"It's not heavy in spices or anything, it's quite a pure venison salami which makes for a good base. That's the first one with other flavours released within the year."

Carpaccio and berries. Photo: Persone Restaurant, Brisbane

Carpaccio and berries. Photo: Persone Restaurant, Brisbane

He also offers a venison sausage, meaty broth bones and a femur bone for marrow.

The story to his success in selling an alternative product comes from Mr Widjaja's technique to market meat as an option for different eating situations.

If a customer needs to feed eight to 10 people, Mr Widjaja offers them options for specific eating experiences including a whole bone and shoulder with the shank attached.

"I like the larger cuts because it gives people that re-connection to their food again," he said.

"Rather than selling steaks, I sell muscle...it allows people to cut steaks out of those muscles the way they prefer and gives them more of an understanding of where their meat comes from on the animal."

Many consumers are put off eating venison due to past bad experiences eating product that was sourced during the rut, when deer mate.

But Mr Widjaja said acceptance of the meat was growing especially when provided with a quality product, often a young doe with a light delicate taste.

Antler knives. Photo: Craig Maher of Maher Knives

Antler knives. Photo: Craig Maher of Maher Knives

"Not all of the meat industry but a lot of the meat industry is not good for the environment and in this case we have got a premium meat...it's a free roaming animal, it's got a really wide variety in its diet and there is no farming input, no clearing, no chemical input, no water use and its also a pest," he said.

"When you are trying to get that premium product from a (livestock) producer you are basically asking them for something that's wild and meanwhile there is all this wild stuff answering our question but we are leaving it on the ground because it's a problem.

"It's a good option for people who are looking for an alternative for a mainstream meat. It's very high in nutrients, high in protein and low fat."

Hand Sourced is a small food distribution and advocacy company of rare and heritage breeds and sells Mr Widjaja's meat.

Owner Shirley Harring said the quality of the venison shocked consumers who believed in the stereotypical 'gamey' taste expectations.

"There are so many obstacles in adding wild foods to our diets and most of that comes from convincing the broader population that it's an acceptable food source and it can taste good," she said.

"There is a lot more community interest in sustainably rearing animals and slaughtering animals. It goes back to educating people that sustainable slaughtering animals in efficient ways can be done but that increases the price."

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