Story #2: Ardgay Game - where it all began
So Ardgay (Ard-guy) is where it all began – a small village, one hour north of Inverness in a far remote corner of the Scottish Highlands. That little village and family Butchery , Ardgay Game, will always be the centre of my universe (with its population of 500 people!). Until my University years, I had lived their my whole life, in the same small cottage my parents still live in today.
A view from home
And this is where the Mac & Wild story begins.
In 1982, the year I was born, Dad (Les) decided to start the family butchery – Ardgay (you know how to say it) Game. At the outset, it was simply a single fridge in our garden shed. As a keen huntsman and fisherman, Dad had become disillusioned with the dishonest nature of the wild game business and wanted to change things. Increasing access to beautiful wild meat and paying suppliers fairly were his driving motives. He started the business on 3 core beliefs I now hold close for Mac & Wild. Focus on these and the rest will follow he told us.
- Always be honest
- Quality comes first
- Staff are your most important asset
Dad back in the day
Growing up in a remote area, with parents determined to carve out such a niche business certainly made for an interesting childhood! Everyone in the family had jobs! If I wasn’t scrubbing the floors of the butchery, I would be hauling deer carcasses around like they were rugby balls. Gradually I started to learn the butchery trade (and the stories of life from the guys in the butchery which of course cannot be shared here). By my teenage years, I was fully immersed in the lifestyle – shooting rabbits after school, helping out during the busy periods and out on the hill grouse beating or ghilliing (taking the deer off the hill on a pony) at the weekends – it was real life Nintendo stuff! Naturally, I learned a lot about meat and I guess this was where my passion for it all started.
As sure anyone who has been involved with a family business can appreciate, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. BSE scares and the likes certainly kept us on our toes. Dad ran the Butchery and drove the business, but our amazing Mum, Lesley, really held things together – up at 5am year after year keeping us all going and fed. There were no fancy holidays, fast cars or latest computer consoles for us – but what a childhood it was – and yes, we ate very very well!
Mum & Dad
Dad has retired from the business just this year, handing the MD reins over to my little brother, Ruaridh who has exciting plans to take things to the next level. Honestly, this was the role I always envisaged myself doing – but the wanderer in me brought me South and I seem to have found myself settled here 500miles away chatting about how great they are instead!
Examining the produce with wee bro Ruaridh
So what does Ardgay Game actually do and why is Venison so special?
Today, Ardgay Game has moved on from Dad’s garden shed and is now proudly housed in a shiny purpose built butcher in Bonar Bridge (insert childish giggle), neighbouring village to Ardgay (just a mile down the road). They now employ 25 employees and supply meats to six countries around the world. Ally, the head butcher, has been with the company for 25 years with the majority of the team being there for over 10 years.
Arek skinnning a deer at Ardgay Game
Ardgay Game specialise in the butchery of deer and small game shot in the wild on Scottish Estates for sport or environmental preservation. Venison is their speciality, with Red Deer accounting for 90% of the meat handled (Roe, Sika and Fallow the remainder). All the Highland estates they work with offer vast expanses of natural ecosystems where the wild deer and animals roam free all their lives, very often never having seen a human being until the moment they are shot. This freedom is what makes the meat ultimately so clean and pure. Ardgay Game work closely with the Estate owners ensuring the best possible meat enters our food chain. Ultimately, we are all passionate about sustainability and traceable quality – the working relationship between butchery and source is paramount to maintaining this.
When a beast is shot, it is first hung at source for at least a week before being transported to the butchery to hang for a further two. Hanging really helps tenderise the meat and allows evaporation and bacteria to work their magic. The guys then get to work preparing and packaging the meat up for its different uses and buyers. Our meat at Mac & Wild is driven down in chilled vans each week.
The sales mix is still weighted towards export markets – mainland Europe (primarily Norway and Holland) is the biggest consumers of venison. Grateful of their custom of course, I just wish more people here in the UK could also enjoy the delicious, lean and sustainable meat that venison is. Low volume production make it unappealing to our large scale supermarket shelves I guess. The consumer is then unfamiliar and cautious to give it a go! We understand this, and hope Mac & Wild can help open people up to the magic of Venison and other game.
Appreciating the finest wild produce at Mac & Wild