Venison - a look at the rise in popularity of the delicious lean meat

PUBLISHED: 14:29 23 January 2013 | UPDATED: 22:39 20 February 2013

A venison kebab and below: A roe deer

A venison kebab and below: A roe deer

Graham Downing looks at the rise in popularity of the delicious lean meat from our booming deer population

The other week I took up the advertising board which normally stands outside our farm gate to attract the attention of passers-by to the venison which I usually have for sale. The reason for my decision to stop advertising was simple: there was virtually no venison left in my game larder. Demand had outstripped supply.

A few years ago it was a struggle to get people interested in buying wild venison. It was perceived as gamey to the point of being high, complicated to cook and too expensive. Food for toffs.

How things have changed. Barely a week now goes by without a TV chef preparing game or venison, and you are guaranteed to find it on the menu at every half-decent restaurant or gastropub.

Furthermore, people are at last recognising that theres a world of difference between farmed venison, much of which comes from New Zealand, and the truly wild stuff from our own forests, hills and glens.

But I take the distinction much further than that, for there are six species of wild deer in Britain and the venison from each of them is different both in flavour and texture.

Not surprisingly, meat from the larger species like red deer is coarser in texture and suited to the classic venison casserole dishes. A fillet of the smaller roe or muntjac, however, is in a different league and those who enjoy good food are now starting to recognise the fact.

I prepare mostly muntjac venison and I have regular customers who are willing to travel 60 miles to buy it because its so rarely available. The problem is that a muntjac carcass is so small that by the time youve skinned and butchered it, youll probably have only 3kg of prime cut haunch and fillet left. Thats not enough to turn a profit for most commercial operators, so game dealers are generally not interested in processing muntjac.

For roe venison the story is slightly different because of the huge traditional market which exists in Germany, where the public very sensibly recognises the fabulous eating quality of roe deer.

Three years ago in one of the top Berlin delicatessens I was slightly startled to see roe fillet on sale at 99 euros per kilo. No wonder there is a thriving export market for British roe carcasses.

My advice, therefore, is that if you see genuine locally sourced wild muntjac, roe or fallow venison for sale at a farm or estate shop, dont hesitate to stock up the freezer while you can.

The supply of wild meat is less predictable than the supply of beef, pork or lamb: a wild venison producer cannot simply load up a trailer with muntjac from his field and head down to the abbatoir when demand increases.

If stocks are low and my customers ask when more will be available, the only response I can make is to ask them if they know when another deer will walk out in front of me.

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