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Hump Day Story: Mariano's Now Serving Camel Meat

By Janet Rausa Fuller | October 8, 2014 5:24am
 Supermarket chain Mariano's recently added camel meat to its lineup of frozen wild game.
Camel meat at Mariano's
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CHICAGO — Camel meat, fit for a sultan's feast, is now in the freezer case at Mariano's.

The grocery chain started carrying the delicacy two months ago to beef up its wild game selection. Fourteen of the company's 28 stores now stock the meat, which is sold ground for $12.99 a pound.

The demand is there, said Amanda Puck, Mariano's director of strategic brand development.

"We have a niche group of customers who are interested in wild game," she said. "Shoppers are asking for [camel meat] in Oak Lawn."

Janet Fuller discusses possible camel recipes:

Mariano's also sells ground venison, ostrich patties, whole rabbit, and pheasant and alligator steaks.

At the Roscoe Village store, meat clerk Destiny Desort said she talked to a customer a few months ago asking for camel meat.

 Camel joins Mariano's growing selection of specialty meats, which include ostrich and alligator.
Camel joins Mariano's growing selection of specialty meats, which include ostrich and alligator.
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DNAinfo/Janet Rausa Fuller (l.); Hannelore Foerster/Getty Images

"He hinted that camel was a new thing coming up," Desort said.

Camel meat is eaten in the Middle East and parts of Africa. It's no chicken, though. This is serious special-occasion food. The hump is the prized cut, offering the fattiest, most tender meat, according to the Syrian-Lebanese chef and author Anissa Helou, who has written about her experiences eating camel meat.

High in protein, rich in Vitamin E and lower in fat than beef, camel meat "believe it or not, tastes like lamb," said Brad Schoenberg, regional sales manager for Broadleaf, the California-based distributor of camel and other exotic meat for Mariano's.

Broadleaf's camel is farm-raised in Australia under sustainable practices. The company started importing it this summer. Mariano's is the only major retailer in Chicago that stocks the meat.

"There's a finite amount of specialty protein, unlike commodity beef," Schoenberg said.

Wild game still accounts for only 1 percent of Mariano's meat sales, but that number might grow in the coming months. Schoenberg said Broadleaf is working with the grocer on a marketing campaign to boost the visibility of the wild game section in each store. Chef Brian Jupiter of Frontier in West Town, known for his expertise in cooking game, will do in-store demos with various meats, Schoenberg said.

For pastry chef Kathy Skutecki, the camel stood out among the buffalo and ostrich in the freezer case on a recent shopping trip to her Mariano's at 3350 N. Western Ave.

Skutecki has read about camel milk catching on in California, but seeing the meat was "completely unexpected."

"I just kind of stared at it a while, wondering what you do with it," she said.

She didn't end up buying any, but she did snap a photo for her Instagram feed.

Those like Skutecki who aren't yet ready to cook camel in their own kitchen have another option: the $12 camel burger at Chef's Burger Bistro, 164 E. Grand Ave. It comes under a veil of melted Gouda with roasted pineapple, onion and harissa mayonnaise.

The camel burger was one of six burgers on a special wild game menu this summer. In September, the restaurant picked the two best-sellers — the camel and kangaroo — and added them to the permanent menu, said kitchen manager Allison Cordon.

The restaurant sells about 60 camel burgers a week, she said.

"I love it. It's a little more gamey, but it's really lean, really good," Cordon said. "I think anybody that is willing to try something different should try it, because it's absolutely delicious."

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