Top TV chef buys squirrel from new venture at Otterton Mill

PUBLISHED: 16:23 24 November 2008 | UPDATED: 11:42 17 June 2010

CELEBRITY chef Heston Blumenthal is the first customer to order grey squirrel from a new Otterton-based company supplying them to butchers and the catering trade.

CELEBRITY chef Heston Blumenthal is the first customer to order grey squirrel from a new Otterton-based company supplying them to butchers and the catering trade.

After gaining national publicity by cooking up squirrel kebabs during its game fair last month, Otterton Mill team has launched Squirrel Direct, a new venture to put the meat back on the menu.

"The response to this story has been huge," said Caroline Spiller, who has set up the business with joint mill owner husband Simon, head chef Ed Chester and restaurant manager Rob Andrew.

"We've had calls from individuals, other restaurants and even butchers asking for squirrel recipes and meat supply.

"We have even been told by one national butcher the supply of grey squirrel meat nationally cannot keep up with current demand, which is one reason why we have decided to supply the meat ourselves."

The Spillers first put grey squirrel on the menu at Otterton Mill to highlight the plight of the UK's indigenous red squirrel, put at risk by their grey American cousins.

Simon said: "We subscribe to the cause of organisations like the Red Squirrel Protection Partnership, based in Northumberland, which is promoting a cull of grey squirrel in order to help the reds repopulate.

"The inclusion of grey squirrel on our menus has also been part of a broader initiative at the Mill to promote wild game meats, because they fit with our sustainable and local sourcing ethos and taste great."

Head chef Ed agrees and is "delighted" by the interest shown.

In the 1940s and 50s, squirrel was a popular meal. It is eaten in France, where they are farmed for consumption.

"About a quarter of those interested are from that era, but the bulk of enquiries are from those in their late 20s, early 30s, who are not afraid to be a little adventurous," said Ed.

Ed is working with local estates to trap and shoot squirrel, which are considered a pest. He also works with estates up as far as Northumberland to promote local sourcing of the meat to restaurants and butchers.

"The potential is there to sell 20-25,000 over a year on a retail basis," said the chef.

Mr Blumenthal will prepare a squirrel dish during a forthcoming TV show.

"From what I hear, Heston was delighted with it and we will be talking to him this week with a view to supplying a considerable quantity."

"Squirrel is a very tasty meat, with a flavour between wild boar and chicken, and the grey is as abundant as they are affordable.

"When we put our squirrel kebabs on the menu a few weeks ago we sold over 40 portions in 90 minutes.

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