Wild Venison Workshop and Lunch in Suffolk: Tuesday 21 March 2017
21 April 2017
This is a report written by Kathy Slack (Kathy@glutsandgluttony.com and @gluts_gluttony) about the Guild Venison Workshop and Lunch on Tuesday 21 March 2017 from 10.30am to 5pm at The Wild Meat Company, Lime Tree Farm, Blaxhall, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 2DY. The event was hosted by Guild member Mike Warner (apassionforseafood.com and @eastcoastavocet) together with Robert Gooch and Paul Denny of the Wild Meat Company. Lunch was Bruisyard Hall (bruisyardhall.com) and the chef was another Guild member Gill Meller (gillmeller.com and @gill.meller).
On a glorious Spring day, Guild members gathered at the tiny rural station of Wickham Market in deepest Suffolk. We were met by Mike Warner and his convoy of cars and driven the short distance to our first stop – the processing facility for The Wild Meat Company in Blaxhall near Woodbridge.
Run by Robert and Paul, the Wild Meat Company sources wild meat from registered hunters working in the Suffolk countryside, butchers it and sells it online and to local butchers. Today we’d be focusing on venison, but the company handles every sort of wild meat you can imagine (pheasant, hare, woodcock, rabbit) plus some you might not like, squirrel.
Paul welcomed us to the warehouse where meat is received, inspected, butchered and processed for sale before taking us into a butchery room where he had a 40kg fallow deer carcass ready to be broken into different cuts.
As he worked (with remarkable dexterity and no fear for the staggering sharpness of his knives), he and his business partner Robert, explained how the venison supply works:
There are four types of deer in Suffolk – fallow (the most abundant), red, roe, muntjac and Chinese water deer. All are increasing in numbers and have no natural predators. They can cause serious damage to land and crops and are, inevitably, seen by most landowners as a pest when numbers become unmanageable. The controlled culling of deer by licensed stalkers, shooter and hunters is all part of good land management in Suffolk.
Accredited stalkers are highly experienced and select suitable beasts for culling at the right times of year, age and condition (venison is not, it turns out, just a winter pleasure – more of which later). Once shot, the stalker removes the feet, head and intestines immediately to prevent contamination and brings the beast to The Wild Meat Company. Road kill this is not.
On site, the carcass is skinned using a machine that removes the fur in one piece and checked by a vet or food inspectors to ensure it is healthy. The meat is also branded and tagged to show where it came from and who processed it – traceability is critical with wild meat, we learn.
Finally, the carcass is hung for one to two weeks depending on the age of the beast before being butchered. Paul butchered the 40kg carcass casually whilst chatting in around 30 minutes and it yielded roughly 20kg of saleable meat. I suspect that had he not been distracted by us it would have taken 15 minutes at most.
Paul explained today’s deer was likely to be 18 months old and was quite large. The company sells around 2000 deer each year, sometimes processing up to 50 a week (unless it’s foggy and the stalkers are housebound).
Here are Paul and Rob’s top tips for buying venison:
- Venison is not just for winter. Stags are available August – April, hinds from November – February, roe bucks all summer and muntjac and Chinese water deer all year
- Supermarkets which stock deer often buy farmed New Zealand deer because supply is stable and the details (age etc) of the animal can be verified unlike wild deer. (Seems a pity really to be importing a farmed beast which is at pest proportions in the UK)
- Muntjac is considered the sweetest and most tender meat but you’d need to be an expert to tell one breed from another. Something to aim towards, perhaps
- Any fillets from the haunch are ideal for flash frying
- The loin (the eye of the saddle) is great rare and perfect for wellingtons
- Harder working muscles such as shoulder are best for stewing
Already full of venison cooking questions, we headed to the stunning Bruisyard Hall just 10 minutes away in Saxmundham. This recently refurbished 14th Century abbey, house and estate is available for weddings and (very glamorous) parties and was playing host to Gill Meller (author and group head chef at River Cottage) who would give us a cookery demonstration and cook a venison feast for lunch in the cavernous country house kitchen.
Fresh from the success of his first solo book, Gather, in which he uses Wild Meat Company produce, Gill showed us how to prepare venison tartare adorned with pan-fried oysters and tempura wild garlic flowers. He then talked through the venison stew we’d be eating shortly and moved on to demonstrate how to make venison salami. Pig fat, venison mince, juniper, bay, orange and 2% salt were well mixed and stuffed into a rather temperamental sausage maker which finally acquiesced and produced a dozen sausages for us each to take home and hang for 6 weeks to cure. Watch this space….
Time for lunch! First course was roast cauliflower with toasted pumpkin seeds, cayenne and a perfectly rare morsel of venison loin. Next up, the venison tartare Gill had demonstrated complete with oysters and tempura wild garlic flowers. Main course – a hearty meal in its own right – venison stew with light and fluffy nettle dumplings, textbook smooth mash and roast carrots. Finally (and yes we all found room for it) was bay leaf brownie topped with almonds and celeriac ice-cream.
This fabulously incentive, and not a little filling, lunch brought an end to a fascinating day and we all made for home, heads full of ideas about cooking venison and maybe even experiment with the occasional squirrel stew...
© Kathy Slack 2017
Photographs © Kathy Slack 2017
You can view more information and a film of the event on The Wild Meat Company website at wildmeat.co.uk/blogs/news/wild-venison-masterclass-guild-of-food-writers