Cervena tri-tip roast and mince supplied by Mountain River are new and hot products with D’Artagnan customers, as farming journalist Lynda Gray discovered on a recent visit to the American distributor’s New Jersey base . Class Act American chefs are tuning in diner taste buds to Mountain River venison and Cervena, thanks to the extraordinary efforts and expertise of wholesaler and distributor D’Artagnan. The D’Artagnan and Mountain River relationship is well established as it heads into the fifteenth season. The high standing of the D’Artagnan brand and the extraordinary efforts of the sales and marketing team to keep venison front of mind with chefs and retailers is appreciated by Mountain River Venison, John Sadler says. “They’re an enthusiastic and foodie-centric company that supplies a lot of the top restaurants with most of their meat requirements. It’s a fabulous promoter and supporter of New Zealand deer farmers and the wider industry and we’re extremely appreciative to be partnered with them”. About 90% of venison supplied by Mountain River to D’Artagnan goes to restaurant clients from Denver eastwards. Chefs are becoming familiar with Cervena but getting it included year-round on menus is an uphill battle. Typically placement coincides with the hunting season, which runs from October until March. Cervena-based summer menu items such as venison tartare and grilled racks are happening, but there’s still a long way to go. Changing that winter and autumn mind-set is a never ending work in progress that D’Artagnan is addressing through inspiration and innovation. The message to chefs is that Cervena is about quality, consistency and a cost effective cut, Koen Vanderstraeten, D’Artagnan’s senior sales manager for New York City says. “They’re the key words I use. It’s our job to educate the chefs about what Cervena means, how it’s raised and how it’s different from competitors”. He serves about 100 restaurant clients in New York City ranging from “Rolls Royce to Henry Ford” establishments. Demand is growing and market share increasing slowly on the back of new, versatile cuts a price-step down from the high end tenderloins and rack products. “These cuts are helping us serve different levels in the restaurant market,” Joseph D’Angelo, D’Artagnan Category Manager says. A good example is the tri-tip, a boneless loin triangular roast cut, developed by deer industry executive chef Graham Brown and introduced by D’Artagnan in 2017 on the suggestion of Mountain River. Like the ground venison it’s a familiar product, based on the same cut from beef. “The tri-tip has a fat cap so the cut can be seared or caramelised. It has a surprise factor that chefs like,” Joseph says. Staying ahead of the game with new products has helped D’Artagnan take its reputation as a premium and reputable supplier of meat to the upper echelon of restaurants. But a knowledgeable sales force is the other point of difference from other suppliers, John says. The 67 sales representatives all have a chef or food service background so can speak in practical terms about how Cervena can be prepared and included on menus at different price points. The continuing innovation and development around secondary cuts such as short ribs is helping grow and broaden the demand for Cervena. “It’s giving us a foot into mid-market restaurants and at the same time giving chefs alternatives to the loin and rack cuts. These cuts are always popular so there’s sometimes the problem of not being able supply but giving them another product choice means we keep them happy.” The new cuts are increasing the yield from each carcass which ultimately is reflected in what farmers are paid.“If we can keep chefs and farmers happy it’s a ‘win-win.” A rising star Mince, a humble meat staple, has become a retail best seller since D’Artagnan introduced Venison Ground (mince) one year ago. The convenient sized 12 ounce (340gram) retail packs selling for $US9.99 have been snapped up by shoppers in eastern state supermarkets. It’s opened the door to more supermarket stockists which over the last two years have increased from 30 to 80 retail outlets in eastern States, Steve Juliano, D’Artagnan’s retail division vice president says. “It’s put us in the middle of things. People are loving it and coming back for more... if it can make it as big as what (ground) buffalo is, that would be wonderful.” Until the introduction of the ground product, tender loin and medallions were the main Cervena retail items. They are supplied to the top-end retailers and sell in the $US25–30/lb($US55–$66/kg) price bracket. The high price and the relative unknown about how to successfully prepare and serve these cuts has put–off many home cooks from trying venison. But the ground venison could be the ideal stepping stone because most are familiar on how to serve ground beef in commonly prepared meals such as burgers, chili and Tex-Mex dishes, Joseph D’Angelo, D’Artagnan category manager says. “It’s given us a good foothold into the retail market because everyone knows what to do with ground beef. It’s also at a good price point...we hope that once shoppers try the ground venison they’ll take the next step and try higher value cuts.” Lynda would like to thank D’Artagnan for having her and wishes them all the future success!