Why Lancashire loves game meat

Venison with cranberry and rosemary

Venison with cranberry and rosemary - Credit: Archant

It’s all the rage among foodies and if you want to get game there is nowhere better than the north west. Mike Glover reports


Pigeons - Credit: Archant

Game has caught the culinary zeitgeist. It is marketed as wild, natural and free range with a distinctive flavour. And being low in cholesterol and high in protein, wild game also scores as one of the healthiest meats.

The good news is there is no shortage of it in this part of the world and one of the businesses taking full advantage of this surge in interest is Furness Fish Poultry & Game, based in Flookburgh at the top end of Morecambe Bay.

Clare Worrall has owned the business, in Moor Lane, for five years after taking it over from Les Salisbury who set it up in the 1970s. Clare worked in the office for Les for a dozen or so years before that.

She has had a mighty influence on the direction taken by the company famed as a producer of Morecambe Bay potted shrimps. Her challenges have been substantial - shrimps themselves have been in short supply but the tractor-driving harvesters who scour the dangerous sands are hopeful that this back-end will be more fruitful. Also, over the last few years the supply to the hotel trade has been undermined by big chains driving harder bargains from suppliers, and Clare refuses to play the game of competing on price. ‘We are all about producing a quality product, not getting involved in price wars,’ she says determinedly.

Cutting venison

Cutting venison - Credit: Archant

Instead, she has taken the company in major new directions that have boosted revenues to well over the £1 million a year mark.

The first was embracing wholeheartedly the boom in the interest in game, especially since food scares like BSE. Pheasant, partridge, mallard, venison and rabbits all pass through the Flookburgh plant to be prepared for the table, under the strictest licensing rules and supervision.

The animals are picked up from shoots by the company van, and taken to the factory where they are prepared for the table.

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Clare says that part of the success has been giving added value and taking the fear out of cooking game, by making the meat oven-ready. This can include dressings, stuffings and sauces.

Morecambe Bay Potted Shrimps

Morecambe Bay Potted Shrimps - Credit: Archant

One of her best outlets is super-grocers Booths. Just reading their catalogue of offerings from Furness Fish, Poultry & Game is mouth-watering with delicacies such as Lakeland Game Roulade: Wild Venison fillet layered with pheasant and pigeon breast stuffed with plum and mulled wine venison sausage meat and wrapped in bacon.

That is just one, taken at random, from a dozen specials chosen by Booths to highlight the style and standard to which Clare’s team of 12 aspire.

The shrimps, when they can be found, also pass through the factory where the machinery peels them before they are cooked to a secret recipe involving butter and spices before being packed in the familiar pots sealed with butter.

‘Warm through the shrimps and serve with fingers of toast’ is Clare’s tip.

She also runs a mail-order business known as Fish Fantastic which she bought from a Manchester wholesaler a couple of years ago.

Flukes, the small plaice or dab-like flat fish that gave Flookburgh its name, sea bass and other local catches are pre-packed and frozen before being despatched to customers.

The other main impetus of Clare’s growing success is to deal directly with customers, at shows, markets or festivals. She can be seen cooking paella, making venison burgers or selling from her stall at events all over the region.

In fact it was at Nantwich Food Festival that she met her husband, Ben Holland of Bowland Outdoor. He rears and butchers on-site at his Bowland Park farm, mainly pigs for hog-roasts and sausages.

His stall at Nantwich had a longer queue than Clare’s and it was her heckling that got them together.

They obviously had a lot in common and now the couple have three children: Luke, aged 14, six-year-old Ella and Rebecca, four.

The festival and show trail means long hours, often seven days a week. But Clare doesn’t baulk at the hard work, nor at the commute from Bowland to Flookburgh.

She may be the only woman running a game processing company in the UK but being the boss in a man’s world keeps her smiling, and a glint in her eye.

* A demonstration and dinner by the Taste of Game campaign is being held at the Farmers Arms, Great Eccleston, on November 14. For more information call 01995 672018

Health on a plate

1. Game is wild, natural and free-range. Your butcher should be able to tell you the provenance, so don’t be afraid to ask which estate it has come from. It could be very local to your area.

2. Game is available from many butchers in a variety of cuts during the season. From oven-ready whole partridges and pheasant, to portions such as pheasant breasts, venison fillets, diced venison and even sausages! So you are sure to find something to suit the family.

3. Game is easy to cook, in a number of ways. With a variety of cuts comes a variety of recipes, just visit our recipe page for a whole host of ideas.

4. Game meat is generally hung for less time now for a more delicate flavour. It is also incredibly versatile and makes a tasty change from other meats. Venison is a great substitute in most recipes for beef. Next time you make a casserole or pie try using diced venison. Similarly pheasant is a great alternative to chicken in most dishes as is rabbit.

5. Game is good for you. Venison is high in protein, low in saturated fatty acids and contains higher levels of iron than any other red meat. Pheasant and partridge contain a high level of iron, protein, vitamin B(6) and selenium, which helps to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals*.

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