CALEDONIA — Turning whitetail deer into tempting table fare has become a passion for Jack and Nancy Larmour, founders of Fork N Road Deer Processing. Their artistry has elevated thousands of hunters’ venison well beyond the bounds of roast and burger alone.
Estimates from state wildlife officials number Mississippi’s deer herd at 1.75 million, and hunters bring down roughly 280,000 each year, a haul that helps hold the population of that natural resource steady. Those deer that make the journey from greenfields to groceries provide meals numbering well into the millions, sent to the table by cooks following at least that many different recipes. From roasts to burger, with jerky between, processors at home and professionals alike are always on the lookout for new ways to prepare this lean, healthy meat. That’s where the Larmours best shine.
In addition to the standard service of trimming deer into steaks and roasts or grinding it into burger, Fork N Road offers a wide variety of further-prepared products that have helped make the business a big hit. Perfecting the recipes for those and continuing to innovate more are what Jack Larmour says he likes best.
“I worked on the breakfast sausage recipe four years before I had it where I wanted it, and it’s one of our most popular products today,” he said.
Along with options for jerky, burger, bacon burger, roasts and tenderized steak, Fork N Road offers a vast variety of sausages that include, along with the breakfast style, summer, smoked, applewood, pineapple, andouille and bologna, each with a regular recipe further customizable by order to include cheddar, pepper jack or jalapeño cheese if the hunter prefers. Other tremendously popular products include snack sticks, which are similar to a Slim Jim but healthier, boudin, deer burritos and deer tamales.
“We did 8,000 burritos last year, and 1,200 dozen tamales,” he said. His wife Nancy, he said, “is the burrito and tamale queen.”
Continued innovation keeps the adventure fresh.
“People are always asking for something different,” he said. “Right now I’m working on a sweet heat snack stick that’s almost ready to go into production.”
Larmour kicked off Fork N Road Deer Processing 13 years ago, having sold his convenience store business but resolving not to simply sit around at home. In their first season, they processed 458 deer, working exclusively at night.
“That was the only time I could get any help,” he laughs. “At night, our butcher was off from his regular job. Besides him, I had two high school boys and myself, and we went to work.”
These days, working from October 1 through the end of February or early March, or from opening day through a couple weeks beyond the final close, Fork N Road processes around 3,500 deer per hunting year and employs as many as 10 to 12 workers at a time.
“I take a great deal of pride in doing a good job and producing a quality product,” he said.
Though it necessitates more and smaller batches, Larmour and his team never pool meat from any hunter’s deer with that of any other, a point that adds time to the process but ensures each person reaps the rewards of the care they took with their own collected critters.
Unlike cattle, whitetail deer muscles are not marbled with fat. Deer store their fat in layers below their skin and around internal organs, but their muscles, no matter how large, are 100 percent lean. Deer fat has a coarse texture and an extremely high melting temperature and is, therefore, not something people typically want to eat. To make sausage, then, an amount of pork or beef fat must be added to the mix, a step and ingredients Larmour takes as seriously as any other.
“We can use beef or pork fat, whichever each person prefers,” he said. “I’ve lined up really good sources for each. Some people are allergic to beef but can eat pork. Some, it’s the other way around. Whichever people want, we’re careful to follow the requests.”
Once processed, all products are vacuum sealed in durable bags and kept well frozen while awaiting pickup. Because of this final step, they can be stored safely and securely in freezers for months on end.
Fork N Road Deer Processing is located at 95 Cal-Kolola Road in Caledonia, just off Highway 45, about a 45 minute drive south of Tupelo. Hunters may drop off their field dressed deer 24 hours a day.