Feather, fur, fish and Fowles

Renowned winemaker, ethical hunter and passionate wild game cook Matt Fowles has taken on the role of chauffeur on a never-ending culinary journey. Matt will introduce us to like-minded chefs and winemakers who love fresh, wild food matched thoughtfully with fine wines and beer.

Matt steps up to the plate first, taking on the humble rabbit to give an insight into his food and wine philosophy.

Let’s lay it in the table straight away, there will be offal.

Matt Fowles insists on using the whole bird or beast, it is an important aspect of his ethical approach to hunting. His first love was fishing, courtesy of a gift at age seven and a summer holiday spent on the pier at Portland pestering the old blokes to reveal their secrets.

“I just thought that was the best thing ever,” Matt said.

On becoming teenager his Grandfather gave him a .22 rifle and Matt quickly graduated from tin cans to rabbits.

“I had a spot where I would sit for hours.”

A city kid, Matt developed an interest in game food which sat alongside his fascination with wine. He went into the law but eventually made a very deliberate decision to change course and head for the Strathbogie Ranges above Avenel in Victoria where he founded Fowles Wine.

“This is a region my family has been farming in for a long time but it was a big 180 degree turn.”

“Once we got into the winery I started getting interested in food and we were growing our own veggies and I started hunting more and more up here.”

“What I realised quickly was that the texture and intensity of wild meat is very different to farmed meat and I got quite interested in that and I started thinking critically about wine as it relates to game meat.”

“I wanted to create a wine that complemented that.”

The result was the multi-award winning Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch although initially it didn’t go down well with a leading wine marketer.

“I raised the idea about Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch and she said absolutely do not release that in connection with the winery.

“We went ahead and did it and blended a wine style that suits game.”

The market, especially women, responded to the brand and the philosophy of connecting fine wine to great wild food.

“I believe it needs to have a finer structure, if you’re eating game it is firmer to your palate and if you have a bunch of tannins or structure in the wine suddenly your palate is overwhelmed with all the stuff that’s going on.

“What we were looking for was a silky wine, the texture is soft and velvety, but then we do all these things through the winemaking process from vineyard to bottle that maximise aroma. We want to keep that primary aroma intact.

“You get that intense aroma that stands up to game but then that textural softness to go with it.”

Winemakers strive to make the best wine possible but Matt is happy to produce wines that, while great on their own, serve as a complement or contrast to equally fine food.

“I’m actually happy for our wines to sit as second fiddle to the food, so that the union is better than the stand-alone parts.”

Another label Are You Game? followed, deepening the connection between Matt’s wines and hunting and an interesting thing started happening.

“When you talk to people about hunting through food and wine it seems to be a different conversation because people then understand that it is being put to good use.

“Any concerns about the ethics of hunting are then out the window and we can then get on with having a good conversation about food and wine and a dining experience that is much more meaningful, that is a really powerful thing.

“It is a reflection of how we are living and we were really excited by it so we packaged it up and it has resonated.” Matt’s first dish can be done using hare or rabbit, he prefers the former but the ancient rock formations on his property were not as plentiful as usual.

“The hares did split, I don’t know why.

“Hare fillet is much bigger, a darker meat, I’d absolutely go with the Shiraz with that but today we have rabbit fillets.”

Matt likens game meat cooking to painting; it’s all in the preparation. He expertly slides the knife under the fillets removing a slither of sinew that would cause the meat to curl and toughen when cooked.

They are then wrapped in a delicate homemade prosciutto produced by farm manager Rob Martin and his wife Colette.

“The prosciutto is Berkshire pig and we had it packed in salt for 11 days and then caked with lard and hung it for two years which is very old school.

“Then we stripped it back and it is just like butter, so soft it melts in your mouth.”

For those who can’t wait two years to try the recipe you can get a soft prosciutto from a delicatessen.

“The harder dried out prosciutto is still delicious with a hard cheese but for this you want it to wrap around and almost stick to the fillet which holds it in the pan.”

The other key ingredient is beetroot.

“That has to be the simplest recipe in the world, hopefully someone’s growing it that you can access because it always tastes better.

“It has that sweetness and really balances out the saltiness of the prosciutto.”

A big tip is to fold the narrow, thinner end of the fillet over to create a uniform thickness.

“Most people’s bad experiences with wild meat from my observation are due to a lack of care in preparing the meat but it is also pretty easy to overcook lean and dense wild game.

“You want to match up the meat so it is an even thickness right through so it cooks evenly, if you cook that lean end of the fillet lying flat it will be almost unpalatable by the time the thicker end is ready to eat.”

The wine choice is the Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch chardonnay.

“The dish is definitely one that can go either way, a young shiraz or rosé would work very well but in this case I prefer the Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch chardonnay, I think the saltiness needed to be cut by some fruitfulness.

“It isn’t residual sugar in the wine; it is sweetness of the fruit and a little bit of the oak that carries through as well.”

The ultimate test is the tasting which Matt’s five year old daughter Lilli is initially reluctant to participate in. Swayed by the promise of prosciutto she has a mouthful.

“That’s so yummy I’ll need more in a minute,” she exclaims, sealing the success of the dish.

Matt’s promise is to deliver delicious but achievable dishes for you to try but along with his guest chefs, he will at times push the boundaries and challenge convention.

“It won’t be about putting on a show with things that are unachievable, it will be a showcase of what Australia has to offer with birds, furred game and we will also take a dip into the ocean and streams.

“The chefs who are used to game are great because they have the experience but those who haven’t done a lot but are really interested in it come up with some really
exciting ideas.

“I want to test some boundaries now and then but also show people how simple
it can be to get a great result.”

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