Farming and live stock writer Chris Berry, explores the heritage and growing popularity of wild venison.
Wild venison is the ultimate heritage free-range meat delivering that rarely attained quartet of succulence, substance, leanness and tenderness. It’s also low in fat and cholesterol and high in protein, today’s increasingly winning combination in a far greater health conscious world.
Red Deer, the largest native land mammal in the UK, have roamed the Highlands of Scotland since time immemorial or very close to as they colonised the Land of the Thistle after the end of glaciation over 10,000 years ago.
Surviving and thriving on open hill ranges and woodlands for shelter red deer enjoy a carefree, stress free existence. While movement is not restricted and the deer are not owned by a specific estate until culled, deer management groups usually involving around eight to a dozen neighbouring estates ensure the red deer retain a regular supply of food if the weather becomes worse than normal, and ensure the meat they provide is the healthiest around.
Healthy Red Deer = Healthy Venison
‘Red Deer in the rugged hills of the Highlands provide natural qualities in venison offering unique flavours,’ says Nick Lister of Ox Close Fine Foods in North Yorkshire, one of Farmison & Co’s major suppliers.
‘Their traditional diet of grasses, shrubs, scrub and heather is as natural as you can get and all red deer entering the food chain is certified fit for doing so while in the field before entering the game larder.’
‘Flavour and the healthiest red meat around are venison’s key attributes that are continuing to make red deer an increasingly popular addition to the dining table and restaurants right around the UK, throughout Europe and the US.’
Wild Venison Popularity = Red Deer Sustainability
While Red Deer grow in the wild there is always human support in the hills of Scotland when it is needed and Nick Lister has seen first hand just how much work is put in by those who recognise there is occasionally a time when they need a helping hand.
‘The deer management groups did a sterling job earlier this year when the weather was particularly inclement in winter and spring. When the wet snow freezes and frost comes on top the deer can’t very successfully undertake their normal routine of pawing at the ground with their feet to eat. That’s when animal husbandry comes to their aid with food in the form of nuts and silage.’
‘There is also a keen interest in ensuring the deer population is controlled so that the grazing areas don’t get overrun. In so doing there is a calculation made so that if numbers of hinds appear to be falling below an acceptable level of sustainability there will then be a call for less culling of them in the hind season.’
Free Range Wild Venison = Free Range Taste Sensation
Autumn going into Winter is the main season for venison and TV chefs such as Michel Roux, Mike Robinson and Gordon Ramsay all extol its virtue as a succulent, tasty, healthy option. There is a strong belief among the fine dining world that free range wild venison from the heritage lands of the Highlands of Scotland is more than just a worthy addition to the table, it is also something special yet at a more affordable price than is sometimes perceived.
‘Wild venison from red deer hits the mark in all respects,’ says John Pallagi of Farmison & Co. ‘We also make a point of only developing relationships with those who care about the animals themselves and look after their welfare. Even when animals are regarded as wild this is still important, in fact probably more so, as the natural, traditional, heritage flavours that come from wild venison can only do so through people who care for stock and the landscape.’
‘You simply don’t get anything more stunning than stags in the Scottish Highlands – and you don’t get anything that compares to succulent, mouth-watering wild venison on your plate.’