When consumers, reality show contestants and even foodies think about quail meat, they may well think of a complex cooking process and fine dining in some of Australia’s top restaurants.
But times are changing, as long-time Tasmanian quail producer Bruce Wiggins, can attest.
He has been in the quail game at Rannoch Farm near Nubeena on southern Tasmania’s scenic Tasman Peninsula since 1979.
“Right at the start it was a marketing exercise to get people to eat quail. Australians didn’t eat little birds,” Mr Wiggins said.
“It was quite common in Europe, but it doesn’t taste like chicken. There’s nothing to compare it with.”
So Mr Wiggins’ business emphasis has shifted to mainly smoked and brined product rather than whole, uncooked birds.
“We’re trying to target the cafes,” he said.
“So fine dining’s sort of starting to take a back seat.”
Rannoch Farm supplies quail meat to eateries both interstate and locally.
From the time the eggs come out of the incubator — or ‘Tardis’, as Mr Wiggins calls it — to when the tiny chicks are placed in heated drawers, and then a series of feeding sheds where they can more than double in size in a matter of days, the birds’ life cycle is about five weeks.
Mr Wiggins said his family business was well placed to adapt to changing markets, but the last year had been “very slow”.
“We don’t know why,” he said.
“You can generally tell when there’s a lot of tourists around.
Tens of thousands of eggs composted
As well as the shift to an emphasis on pre-prepared cafe products, Mr Wiggins has also had to write off egg sales.
When quail egg demand was high he used to sell to restaurants, but Mr Wiggins said he had been forced to abort that part of his business when the Tasmanian Government introduced egg-stamping legislation.
The task was designed to improve traceability in the event of outbreaks of food-borne illnesses such as Salmonella poisoning.
The Government said the measure, involving a six-digit code approved by Biosecurity Tasmania, would allow contaminated eggs to be recalled, and offered a free hand-held stamp to small egg producers.
But Mr Wiggins said the task was impossible.
“We’ve had to throw out 10,000 eggs. There’s nothing wrong with them. I can’t even give them away. I’m not allowed to.
“They have to be stamped or composted … and that’s the way it is.”
Mr Wiggins said he had asked the Government for an exemption, to no avail.
“I can’t see that changing,” he said.
“I had somebody employed doing that, trained them, and they took them up to the restaurants, so he lost that part of his job.
“They make good scrambled eggs … but you can only eat so many.”