It’s not every day I eat more than 15 types of protein, but that’s exactly the drill at Wild About Game (WAG), Nicky USA’s annual food event that’s every meat lover’s dream.
Since 1990, Nicky USA has been the Northwest’s leading butcher and distributor of game birds and other game meat. Based in Portland and now in Seattle as well, they work with local and international ranchers and farmers to provide meat and other specialty food products to restaurants and individuals—high quality products often not easily found elsewhere.
Nicky USA Founder, Geoff Latham, began his business by selling rabbits to restaurants and retailers from the trunk of his Ford Escort. A graduate of Oregon State University’s Agricultural Business Management School, Geoff and wife, Melody, worked hard to expand into processing specialty meat and game at their own Portland USDA processing facility.
Under the brand name Nicky Farms, they sell Northwest raised rabbit, quail, elk, fallow venison, water buffalo, emu, and American bison, and a line of sausages. In 2011, they purchased a 40 acre farm in Aurora, Oregon, where they raise some meat for Nicky Farms, host events, and guide hunts.
Food Booths Galore
Wandering the many booths at the Wild About Game event provides the chance for delicious offerings from wholesalers and restaurants.
Two of the most popular are from Chef Chris Carriker of Portland’s 23 Hoyt: elk tartare wrapped in a Vietnamese tiet-to (also known as tai-to, taito, or tia to) leaf. It has an amazing texture and flavor and the taito leaf adds great aroma and bite. A well-prepared tartare of any kind puts a smile on my face, but this is exceptional. His elk Bolognese is another favorite. Carey used Alberta, Canada’s Wapati River elk in both dishes.
The premiere pork butchers The Swinery (Seattle) and Tails and Trotters (Portland) are here. Tails and Trotters offer “Grinder Bites,” yummy three-salume mini sandwiches, and The Swinery uses lamb from Oregon’s Anderson Ranches in a wonderful lamb tartare, a flavorful lamb stew over cous cous, and a tender souvlaki.
Duck, one of my favorite meats, shines with East Coast’s BellaBella Gourmet Foods delicious smoked duck and foie gras (pate).
Manchester Farms produces quail and quail eggs and prepare one of my favorite bar snacks, Scotch eggs. Olympic Provisions has charcuterie and Nueske’s brings smoked meats.
Snake River Farms sears Kobe Beef on a salt block and serves it with tarragon shallot butter. Granted, it would be hard to ruin this delicious beef, but the salt block adds great flavor and makes for a fun demo.
Central Oregon’s Painted Hills Natural Beef offers the chance to taste grass-fed and natural beef side by side. Both are fabulous, but the flavors very different. Wagshal’s offers the unique opportunity to taste Iberico ham, the famous Spanish ham. They are one of the few companies that import this ham uncured.
Wetting Our Whistle
Portland’s Case Study Coffee keeps us caffeinated with some great bean selections –their specialty is selecting beans at their seasonal best from around the world. They offer several different brewing methods and homemade syrups.
A variety of libations keeps us hydrated and happy. Aria Gin pours one of the most flavorful, aromatic gins using juniper and nine other botanicals. Beam offers their line of spirits.
HOTLIPS Soda pours their natural sodas. Soter Vineyards, Brooks, and Colene Clemens offer their wines. Sasquatch Brewery, The Commons Brewery, and Double Mountain Taproom pour beer.
Bull Run Distillery and Burnside Brewery team up to mix boilermakers. These are not your frat house variety. By mixing Bull Run’s Temperance Trader bourbon and Burnside’s Couch Select or Munich Dunkel beer, they elevate this to a delicious cocktail.
Not Just Meat
Ankeny Lakes and St. Maries prepare rice dishes from their wide selections of wild rice. Ancient Heritage Dairy put out their small batch sheep and cow milk cheeses, and Jacobsen Salt Co. share their salts. Mama Lil’s Peppers is here with excellent pickled peppers and other veggies. Bee Local, Portland-based artisanal honey makers who keep many of their hives on rooftops throughout the city, brings honey, each with a very different flavor (like each Portland neighborhood).
Portland favorite, Salt and Straw, is here too with four unique ice cream flavors. At this meat-centric fest, the most popular is the Bone Marrow and Bourbon Smoked Cherry!
We Play with Knives
Good kitchen knives are another of life’s pleasures and Shun Cutlery shows off a range of their Japanese-style knives and a good supply of food with which to play. (My Shun paring knife is one of my favorites.)
And the Winner Is…
The main event of All About Game is the Chef’s Competition, which goes on throughout the day. Four chefs, each from Portland and Seattle, go knife-to-knife with different assigned game meats. This year’s Match-Up:
• Rabbit: Joshua McFadden of Ave Gene’s in Portland and Shane Ryan of Matt’s in the Market in Seattle (winner).
• Squab: Jin Soo Yang of Portland’s Bamboo Sushi (winner) and Jason Stoneburner of Seattle’s Bastille;
• Goat: Jason French of Portland’s Nedd Ludd (winner) and Mike Easton of Seattle’s Il Corvo;
• Elk: Josh Scofield of Portland’s Toro Bravo (winner) and Rob Sevcik of Seattle’s Loulay.
All the dishes are truly outstanding and it’s fun to watch the chefs assemble the dishes. Winner of both the Overall and People’s Choice award is Shane Ryan, from Matt’s in the Market, for his bacon-wrapped rabbit roulade, black garlic, chanterelles, summer truffle grits, huckleberries and rabbit nugget. Yes; it was really that good.
The tally of this year’s chef’s contest was Portland 3-Seattle 3. But the clear winner is Nicky USA
And those15 types of protein? I wouldn’t have counted, but I play the “Wild about Game” Game card I receive on entry. Sample each protein and get the stamp from each vendor and a chance to win a sampler meat box. I don’t win the prize, but I enjoyed delicious samples of Muscovy duck, Oregon lamb, rabbit, hazelnut finished pork, bacon, quail, elk, foie gras, venison, and uncured Iberico de Bellota ham. I taste natural beef, grass-fed beef and American-style Kobe beef. I also sampled squab, goat, Hama Hama oysters, and sausage and charcuterie from wild boar, and water buffalo. And that is not something I do every day.
Wild About Game takes place in the fall and, each year, it’s bigger and better. Check Nicky USA’s website for next year’s date and make this your next food fest! — Story and photos by Nancy Zaffaro