Deer

 

Venison is the altar boy of meats, often left in the shadow of products more familiar to the British table. For many it’s seen a niche product or, worse, one reserved for the “posh” hunting and shooting brigade. But, just for a moment, let’s look at wild venison against the checklist of ethical farming issues

Has it had a good natural life with the freedom to roam and fulfil its natural behaviours? – Tick

Has it had the opportunity to breed naturally? – Tick

Has it fed on a purely organic diet? – Tick

Is it low in harmful fats? – Tick

Has it been free from medication with antibiotics during its life – Tick

So what’s the problem with wild venison and why isn’t it our meat of choice for the celebration table. Well for some, it is. But for others, you’ll hear any manner of reasons: too difficult to get hold of, too expensive, don’t know how to cook it etc.

We believe that one of the barriers to eating venison is that, unlike its supermarket brethren, it’s just a little bit closer to that subject the modern shopper shies away from. Many shoppers like a few reality filters between their main protein source and its origins. Vac packed and jointed, displayed under lights intended to enhance the colour is IN, hanging in the butcher’s window with its beady eye looking out from the head which is still firmly attached is – OUT!   For many, being too close to where our food actually comes from is an uncomfortable place to be in animal loving Britain. Somehow we have confused the whole process. A process that is fairly straightforward. If we choose to eat animal meat, the animal in question has to die to service that need. That’s not a revelation; it’s just the plain, simple truth but one that many prefer not to have to think about.

What defines and justifies the civilisation of the whole process is how the animal meets its end. Spend any time at all with an experienced stalker and many are struck by the unexpected order of priorities they have. Any ideas on the top one (apart from safety)..? Clean shot, is the answer. If you can’t kill it outright and humanely – don’t shoot. That equates to “get it right or go home hungry”.  If, for some reason, something does go wrong – there is a responsibility to end further suffering without delay.

The Daily Mailers amongst the population love to hate the hunting, fishing mob, assuming perhaps that they are rolling in it (the truth is much different). That it’s cruel and inhumane to making killing into a sport, that’s its just obliteration of the wildlife in the pursuit of pleasure. But there is a wildlife and environmental case for controlling deer. Humans, we, long since euthanized any natural predator the deer had to keep their numbers within the natural balance of a given area. Mainly we did that for profit, so that “we” could use the deer as property to be reserved for the rich. So now, unchecked, and in ideal habitat conditions like the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley, they thrive. They thrive in numbers and densities that can affect overall health of the wild herd. Over grazing strips large areas of available food and that can lead to poor condition and even starvation. That grazing also has a real and serious impact on some of the area’s we have decided to save against the plough or development. No objective scientific review has concluded that the numbers should simply be allowed to do their own thing.

Why is it that, as a nation, we tend to demonise the hunter who takes what he or she needs for the table whilst we are happy to accept the role of the slaughter man who brings daily death on a wholesale scale? Why have we become distanced from the ways in which our protein is harvested?

Inconsistency of consumption

The culling activity goes on continually. The activity is timed according to the natural rhythms of the beast, is done by expert shots in as humane a way possible. The Forestry Commission cull on land under their control (although our area in the DeanWye is so rich in habitat that large tracts of the land are not in the hands of such a responsible landowner – local councils for example). The vast majority of the culled wild venison on Forestry land is gathered together at central points for onward distribution to the national food chain.

Wouldn’t it be great if the food miles where reduced and more of that meat was retained in the local economy for us all to enjoy?

We asked Rob Cox, Head Chef at the Tudor Farmhouse Hotel for a few venison tips. Here’s what he had to say:

In my view venison is best roasted especially the saddle. The haunch is also best roasted but it needs to be butchered correctly to remove sinew and end up with a tender piece of meat. 

 The shoulders can be braised but they are so lean it can become dry because of the lack of fat on the beast. With that in mind I like to mix in some pork belly and mince it to make sausages.

 My favourite way though is a tartare seasoned with shallot, gherkin and tabasco and served with beetroot, horseradish cream, pickled berries and chestnut.

 For a dinner I would go for roasted saddle with smoked bacon, red cabbage, Brussel sprouts and a few wild mushrooms.

Foraging for Fun

 

Foraging sounds like excellent fun doesn’t it – alone in the countryside finding all your own food for free. What could be better? Having just come back from celebrating mushroom season Italian style for a continuing food documentary photo project we can say – we are fans! But it’s also a bit scary isn’t it. Alone in the woods for a start! What if you get attacked by a boar or an amorous stag like the Daily Mail are always banging on about.

Foraged wild Cep porcini mushrooms
Foraged wild Cep porcini mushrooms

What if I just end up eating overgrown lawn instead of an exotic wild herb? Even worse, what if that supposed French woodland delicacy of a dew-covered mushroom you’ve just picked turns out to be from the genus instantpainfuldeatharia? Just where do beginners to foraging actually start?

Amidst this glorious landscape of ours full of free, nutritious and healthy food as we are, it makes sense to get a little help before you start. Well you are in luck! The Parish Grasslands Project will be running a foraging day entitled a Taste of the Hudnalls. Described as a day of hunting for, and appreciating, the wild food available from the Hudnalls area.

Chanterelle mushrooms
Chanterelle mushrooms

Expert guide, Raoul van den Broucke, will be on hand to lead a small group through the lanes and fields of the Hudnalls on the afternoon of Saturday 29th October picking out tasty treats along the way. Raoul, once dubbed by The Guardian, “the Carluccio of the Wye Valley”, has a long standing expertise in wild food and will be imparting his knowledge to the hardy group during the day. Later the same evening at the St Briavels Assembly Rooms Raoul will be joining the fabulous Yvette Farrell of Harts Barn Cookery School  http://www.hartsbarncookeryschool.co.uk/  in a “cook what you brung” style masterclass of using wild food in the kitchen. There is also a competition for the best wild food recipe –don’t miss that! Visit the Grasslands website for details http://www.parishgrasslandsproject.org.uk/news.html#hudnalls2016. We’ll be there to cover the whole story but don’t let that put you off coming along and do say hello. It’ll be a fabulous day – tell them we sent you…

Raoul is a familiar face at the Tudor Farmhouse Hotel where is has been wild food expert in residence for several years as well as the tutor on Tudor Farmhouse Hotel’s extremely popular residential and group foraging courses. Under the expert tutelage of Raoul, Tudor’s courses having been running for about 5 years now and are always such popular events for the hotel that extra dates have been added for this Autumn and there are some new spring dates for 2017 soon to be announced. With either the day group courses or luxurious  forage, eat and stay packages on offer to choose from, they are not to be missed. See their website for details http://www.tudorfarmhousehotel.co.uk/foraging-trips/

 

Tudor Farmhouse Hotel - you'll love it!
Tudor Farmhouse Hotel – you’ll love it!