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Why venison is proving to be a game-changer in Scotland

Helped by a government initiative, venison has been making a slow and steady ascent to prominence over the past years. We meet the key players recognised with nominations in the Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards who are making the popularity surge happen.

Wild red deer from the Amhuinnsuidhe Castle Estate
Wild red deer from the Amhuinnsuidhe Castle Estate

Imagine a world where there was some magical meat which contained twice the iron of lamb and beef, half the fat of skinless chicken and also provided a source of essential fatty acids as well as vitamins, potassium and zinc.

Too good to be true, right?

Imagine too, then, if that meat was available in differing levels of flavour: some mild and mellow, and some gamier, and more robust. With all this considered, why would we ever want to eat anything else?

It's the question on the lips of those who know that far from being a fantasy, such a meat is already very much in existence - and known to the masses as venison.

This spring saw the launch of the Deer Farm Demonstration (DFD) project, a two-year initiative funded by the Scottish government and the European Union created to encourage and inspire potential deer farmers into making the leap into venison production.

The current crop of deer farms, deer parks, and wild deer indigenous to Scotland have allowed the meat to receive a popularity surge in recent years, and many star restaurants have adopted it as a menu staple offering diners meat from both wild and farmed beasts.

Several notable nominations in the Scotland Food & Drink Excellence awards - the winners of which will be announced May 22 - has cemented venison's place in the rollcall of exports-to-watch.

We take a look at a selection of the finalists who are gravitating towards using this bright star of the Scottish food world, in sometimes unorthodox ways...

Rannoch Smokery

 A finalist in the innovation category, Rannoch Smokery developed a £2m hydro scheme which feeds 20 times the amount of power it uses back into the National Grid. The power helps to fuel its new range of Scottish charcuterie - beef and venison - which adapts a process used for vacuum drying coffee in order to produce top-quality dry-cured meat.

Macsween

Everyone knows Macsween for its superlative haggis, but a recent addition to the brand's portfolio is a gourmet venison version. Blending juniper, port, balsamic vinegar and cuts from red deer, the result is a richer haggis, and one that has secured the company a nomination in the awards' Red, White and Game category.

Amhuinnsuidhe Castle Estate

Home to one of the UK's finest sporting estates, the wild red deer that live naturally in the wilds of the North Harris hills provide the basis for Amhuinnsuidhe's world-class game. Unlike anywhere else in Britain it is a completely pure breed, with no other species introduced into the blood-line. Super-sustainable, with the deer completely self-sufficient and feeding from heather found on the estate, the company is also nominated in the Red, White and game category.

Bridge Inn

Reaching the final stage of the Scottish sourcing category was easy for Bridge Inn, due to its commitment to utilising and showcasing the best that the country has to offer. Bridge Inn's menu's hero dish is the venison loin - sourced in Tain - which comes served with haggis, braised shoulder boudin and sticky red cabbage. Learn how to make the dish here.

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