Love turkey for Christmas? Want to enjoy ethical meat on a budget? Here’s why choosing wild game might be your best option.

In this extract from Optimum Nutrition’s Autumn 2020 edition, ‘ethical butcher’ Glen Burrows talks to us about the benefits of choosing game meats at this time of the year – and why practice may be advisable if you are considering it for Christmas lunch.

What is the best ethical meat in the UK, October to December?

“At this time of year we will stop being able to keep chicken outside due to the weather so our last chicken will be sometime in October.

“Hogget and mutton are a good choice in absence of lamb, but the real star of this time is wild game.

“Wild game is under-used and under-appreciated; source it locally and try something new.”

How do you define 'ethical'?

“To us, ethical means that the animals have been kept in a way that is as close to nature as possible.

“Their life should be stress-free with as little human intervention as possible, eating a natural diet and using the bare minimum of inputs.

“We look for animals that are kept in a regenerative system which has an actual benefit to the environment or an ecosystem.

“This can be as simple as using pigs to clear forest undergrowth, to using chickens and cattle in a rotational grazing system to restore soil health and improve the carbon content of the soil — as well as increasing the overall biodiversity of the land.

“The animals should be treated with respect at all points of their life and this includes slaughter, which should be as stress-free as possible and always uses pre-stun with no warning or fear.”

What makes a good Christmas turkey?

“The simple answer to what makes a good turkey is that it has lived a natural life which is as stress-free as possible. Look for organic and outdoor reared.

“Our turkey lives outside and is moved onto fresh pasture daily where the birds can eat grass, berries, seeds and insects with their diet, supplemented by organic feed. They roost at night but are otherwise outside.

“This is superior to most birds that are labelled as free range as this simply means they have access to the outside rather than being outdoor reared.

“Our turkey producer, Hannah Thorogood at The Inkpot Permaculture farm, keeps her turkeys in a newly planted silvopasture system with trees.

“Turkeys are forest dwellers, naturally, and like cover as well as eating plants that would compete with the trees. This means the trees grow stronger and faster, taking carbon out of the atmosphere.

“Another important factor in turkey welfare is managing their stress levels and making sure they are handled and cared for in a calm and quiet way.

“So the factors are varied diet, outside, and low stress.”

What are cheaper choices?

“Organic outdoor reared turkey is very expensive. For anyone with a limited budget, a great substitute would be a large cockerel.

Fosse Meadows Farm produces superb chicken and seasonal cockerel.

“Cockerels are large male chickens, have a richer, gamier flavour and are a great substitute for turkey for a classic Christmas roast.

“Otherwise, game birds are a very ethical choice which are very economically priced around Christmas time.”

What game birds would you recommend?

“Not all game birds are as free as you might imagine — some are indoor reared. Choose game that is certified by The British Game Alliance as this ensures ethical standards.

“Also, they have certified game processors who properly pluck, clean and age the animals, as well as using magnets and scanners to remove the shot.

“Game is ethical in that, when the birds are reared properly, they live a very natural life and are killed instantly.”

How can we use a small game bird to make a large Christmas meal?

“If you’re cooking something new for Christmas it might not be a bad idea to have a practice run first.

“A pheasant that serves two people can often be bought for under £5 so try a recipe small scale, get it right and multiply up for the big day.

“Choose birds that have been minimally hung, ask your butcher if you’re not sure and if you don’t like the flavour too funky.

“Look for recipes involving liquids or fats as game birds are very lean so are easy to over-cook.”

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