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Byron Shire
December 1, 2021

Deer: Fair Game?

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Wild deer are not native, and the NPWS cull them to preserve our national parks. Farmers also cull deer to protect pasture and crops. Most deer are left where they fall in remote locations; an incredible waste of a premium, nutrient-dense, high-protein natural food source. 

Normal butchers can’t use this meat, only the holder of a game-meat processing licence such as Jonas Widjaja can butcher it, hang it, and dry-age it to produce the venison served increasingly at upmarket Northern Rivers restaurants. ‘This is an artisanal process,’ says Jonas, a former primary school teacher and recreational hunter. ‘I work on a single animal at a time so the provenance is extremely strong. I can even guarantee the method of despatch, and that every single animal shot is sold.’

An inspiration for Jonas was friend and award-winning NZ wild-game chef Dariush Lolaiy of Cazador, who is coming over to help launch Jonas’s business Fair Game on 25 August at Mavis’s Kitchen restaurant. Dariush is ready to showcase what he calls the ‘surprisingly delicate’ flavour of venison with some sensational cuisine. 

‘Dariush has a wilderness-to-fire approach, but he also inspired me to use the whole animal,’ says Jonas. ‘I make bone broth, I sell the hides, I use the offal – I have about 200g at the end of the process from a big animal. I am very focused on the question of making the most of this animal that is amazingly healthy; after all it forages on native grasses and berries as well as the best of farmers’ crops!’

According to Jonas, the whole process including the shooting, is as ethical as possible, and if it were more widely understood it would gain community acceptance. ‘The commercial shooters will only take a shot if it’s an instant kill,’ he says. ‘There is no stress on the animal, unlike at an abattoir, and there is no live transport.’

Taking a practical approach to this issue, Jonas says that since commercial cullers and farmers are going to be killing the deer anyway, the more deer shot for food the less food is being wasted. ‘Farmers would prefer to be farming rather than culling deer,’ Jonas says, ‘so they are happy to work with me. At the moment the number of deer killed for food is very small compared to the total culled for environmental reasons, but I believe the time for this approach has come.’

More info: fairgame.com.au

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