Carmen Benítez. Journalist @cabeherrero
The Spanish Food Code defines game meat as "any edible part, including offal, of any game authorized for human consumption". This sector currently boasts significant cultural, social and economic importance in Spain, as hunting has increased exponentially, in terms of both the associated economic effects and the amount of resources dedicated to the sport.
According to the Interprofessional Game Meat Association (Asiccaza), the process this product undergoes on its way to the dinner table begins in the very countryside where hunting takes place, as companies specialized in the sector travel there with special refrigerated trailers for transporting the animals to facilities where they will be treated.
At the facilities, a veterinarian conducts a post-mortem examination and lab tests are run with a view to ensuring that the meat is suitable for consumption.
Game meat is available for sale in three formats: 50% is sold as whole pieces, 25.3% as a processed product (e.g. chorizo), and the remaining 24.7% as cut meat, primarily for export. Game meat is usually packaged and labeled individually by the cut by the same industry.
In terms of purchasing habits, 1.8% is bought in traditional shops, 20.7% in specialized food stores; 2.5% in hypermarkets, 2.5% in supermarkets, 10% in restaurants and 62.5% from other wholesalers.
GAME MEAT IN SPAIN
According to Jaime Hurtado, General Director of Asiccaza, game meat is not a valued product. "We aren't used to it. Aside from chicken, pork and veal, we are totally lost, when the truth is that the best veal is free-range deer, the best Ibérico pig is wild boar fed on acorns from our grasslands, and the best free-range chicken is our native partridge".
According to Hurtado en España, we have the best game meat in the world, as it is raised as free range and in characteristic hills like those in the Mediterranean; however, we must guarantee quality from the very beginning, treating it as it deserves to be treated until it enters a specialized cutting room. "In Spain, we don't know how to appreciate the quality of our game meat; we have to learn to believe in its superiority, and the Association must highlight for consumers the distinctive qualities of our game meat, which have very specific nutritional characteristics in that they contain a high amounts of calcium, iron, phosphorous, magnesium, and zinc, and they are much lower in fat that the animals we usually eat", he adds.
Spain is the leading exporter of game meat; it's a producer, but not a consumer. More than 90% of game meat produced in Spain is exported. Almost all of our game meats are exported to Central Europe: Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal and Italy.
According to an analysis by the Minister of Agriculture, Miguel Arias Cañete, game meat consumption has increased by 4% in the last year. As a result of the crisis, people have reverted back to old customs and are consuming more game meat at home, though it is most likely hunted and not purchased in specialized stores.
Asiccaza's objective is to revive interest in rural products, i.e. in free-range animals, as game meat remains a natural, hormone- and additive-free product which should be positioned among the healthier and most recommended foods in our diet.
Game meat is also served at high-end restaurants. It is available at El 38 de Larumbe, which focuses especially on all kinds of seasonal foods. Says the chef, "We generally serve small game; for example, we currently have roe deer loin, which is very popular and is usually a recurring dish on our menu."
In fact, after steak tartar, Roe deer loin with hummus and red berry salad is the most popular dish. "We try to modernize game meat so that it's light, and we highlight its flavor while ensuring that the dish isn't heavy", he adds.
At Carme Ruscalleda's three Michelin star restaurant Sant Pau, in Sant Pol de Mar, at the outpost of the same name in Tokyo, and at her Moments restaurant in Barcelona, game meats are always featured on the menu when they are in season. Among her appetizers are Mini roe deer hamburgers and Mini partridge meatballs.
"We love to serve Medium venison with cabbage shoots and apple", says the chef. Another of Ruscalleda's dishes is Wood pigeon with rice and mushrooms.
At Akelarre restaurant, Pedro Subijana has his own selection of dishes with game. This year they started the season with pigeon and hare (they usually offer one feather- and one fur-bearing animal), and notable dishes at the moment include Roast deer with cocoa beans in mandarin juice with chestnuts, and Roe deer loin with chestnut milk and mandarins, among others.
According to the restaurant, an increasing number of customers order game; "Previously, these dishes—such as hare—were very unpopular, but now the recipes are much more modern and unique. Game meat is not used as much in traditional stews, which may have stronger flavors and be heavier".
TYPES OF MEAT
The site www.carnedecaza.com has a very interesting classification of various types of meat and includes information about their health benefits and nutritional properties:
Venison is considered an excellent product in terms of nutritional and organoleptic qualities. It is the healthiest and most natural game meat among red meats available.
It is affordable and offers health benefits, making it an ideal product to include in our diet.
Wild boar could be described as the pig in its purest form.
The domestic pig traces its ancestry to the wild boar. Over time, mankind has manipulated the animal, giving rise to what we now know as the pig. Therefore, man is biologically more accustomed to eating the meat of wild pigs than domestic ones. Pork is especially ideal for controlling illnesses such as diabetes, given its high vitamin B12 and B3 content, and it also lowers cholesterol.
Despite its small size, hare is high in the essential proteins, vitamins and minerals needed for a complete and structured diet. A healthy hare can be used to prepare refined, exquisite dishes, satisfying even the most discerning palates.
Duck has excellent health benefits.
It is rich in vitamin B5, which helps correct pathological conditions related to hair, nails and skin, and it boosts the immune system. Like other game meat, duck has a specific texture and flavor that enhances any repertoire of dishes.