Is there a more Australian way of hatching a business deal than over a barbecue?
- A butcher and a farmer from The Rock, in southern NSW, are working together to sell emu meat
- Rump steak and kebabs are a popular choice with customers
- They sold out of the meat from their trial of processing 100 birds
That was how emu farmer Ian Marston from The Rock in the NSW Riverina convinced his local butcher Tim Driscoll to get on board with selling meat from his birds.
“I tried some emu steak at the barbecue, and I’ve loved it ever since and now eat it once a week,” The Rock Butchery’s Tim Driscoll said.
So what does emu meat taste like?
Mr Driscoll said it tasted a bit like a rump of beef.
“In between rump and probably duck,” he said.
“It’s very tender and good protein.”
Mr Marston agreed it was best served as a rump.
“It’s very tender, healthy, high in protein and iron, and it’s lean as I keep all the fat.
As for cooking emu meat, Mr Driscoll prefers it cooked medium rare on a barbecue with a bit of sea salt on top.
“I like the flavouring and the fact that it is good for you,” he said.
Challenging taste buds
Ian Marston has been farming emus for 30 years and runs 750 emus on his Marrocka Emu Farm at The Rock near Wagga Wagga in the NSW Riverina.
To test the market’s taste for emu meat, Mr Marston and Mr Driscoll had 100 birds processed at a Victorian abattoir.
The Rock is centred in prime lamb and beef grazing country, so changing the taste buds of Mr Driscoll’s customers was a challenge.
“They tried it and they’ve come back and bought it again, so it’s slowly taken off,” he said.
It is beyond The Rock where the market has also taken flight.
“A restaurant in Albury has been selling a lot of kebabs,” Mr Driscoll said.
Eating the Coat of Arms
While kangaroo meat has been widely accepted by consumers, there has been more resistance to emu meat being added to the menu.
During the 1990s, Ian Marston was involved with an abattoir at Narrandera in southern NSW from where emu meat was exported.
“We didn’t supply any domestic markets at all as there was a stigma where people in Australia didn’t want to eat emu,” Mr Marston said.
“But this time we are marketing all the young, tender and healthy meat to the Australian market.”
Emu meat healthy and lean
As the fat is kept for emu oil when it is processed at the abattoir, the meat is very lean.
“We don’t have to trim anything off it and there is very little prep work, ” Mr Driscoll said.
Emu meat is a cheaper cut compared to beef and lamb.
“Emu meat doesn’t weigh as much, so you are not spending as much for steak,” Mr Driscoll said.
After being processed at the abattoir, the emu carcass weighs about 12 to 14 kilograms.
Mr Driscoll said after it was boned out, he was left with about eight to 10 kilograms from each bird.
A butcher for 18 years, Mr Driscoll said it was the first time he had worked with emu meat in his career.
“I had to teach myself how to break it up,” he said.
“They are a bit like a big chicken Maryland, so I just followed the bone and seams to work out what was what and went from there.”
Meeting the market on farm
For Ian Martson, the oil from his emus was highly sought after for its immune-boosting properties, while the feathers and eggs were also in demand.
In the past, his birds were processed at 30 to 40 months of age as there was little demand for the meat.
Mr Marston now found he could have the birds processed at 18 months old when the meat was tender.
“We have to wait until they have enough fat on them as we are aiming for around 11 kilograms of oil and about eight or nine kilos of meat,” he said.
Mr Marston said February was the ideal time to process the birds when they weighed about 50 kilograms live.
“From February onwards they start mating, getting territorial and arguing with one another in the paddock, so they start to lose weight,” he said.
Mr Martson said he had to manage their diet and supplemented the emus with grain. They also grazed on lucerne and rye-grass.
He also had to ensure they had enough muscle tone before they started gaining too much weight.
“They only have little legs so you don’t want them too big too quickly or they will splay their legs,” he said.
The best cuts of meat come from the birds’ rear and there is no breast meat.
“It’s the back that’s got all the fillets and the good cuts on it. The legs are like the sausage meat,” Mr Marston said.
Plans to go big with birds
While Mr Driscoll had been selling his emu meat to customers in NSW, Victoria and South Australia, he was also in talks with smallgoods makers in Western Australia and Queensland.
To keep up demand to butcher Tim Driscoll, Mr Marston had called on three of his fellow emu farmers in Victoria to boost supply.
Next year, they plan to have a lot more emu meat available.
“This year was a trial, and we’ll have a lot more next year so it will be like a seasonal crop,” Mr Marston said.
“One of the Victorian farmers getting involved will have 3,000 emus next year.
“So it will be interesting to see how the market grows and how quick Tim can do extensions on the butchery.”