Deer in a day

Deer in a day.. intrigued?  so were we.

The carnivore in me has always prompted the simplistic view that if you’re going to eat meat, it’s good to understand how it arrives on the table.  Last weekend I took part in a day where we sympathetically butchered and cooked just about every bit of a local deer. The experience was so good, we felt Owen and his team at Land & Wave deserved a mention.

We met Owen last year on an industry camp out, learning woodland skills and loved every minute.
When an opportunity arose to join their ‘Deer in a Day’ course it was an easy decision and the idea of using knives and learning new butchery and cookery skills held a kind of magnet to my inner man.

Langton Matravers is a beautiful village above Swanage in Dorset. Purbeck stone houses overlook the bay and Isle of Wight beyond.  The old school setting is the perfect venue with a walled lawn, professional kitchen and wood panelled demo room compete with roaring fire.

A quick brew accompanied introductions, followed by informative discussion including the local deer population, why Dorset's climate naturally produces some of the best venison, how/why meat is hung, how to shoot as kindly as possible and why eating road kill can be a bad idea...

Moving outside we learnt all manner of good practices and began to remove the pelt with hands and fists. Only those keen to get stuck in did so with no pressure on those with less confidence and only very occasionally was a knife required such was the respect for the animal.  Carefully we deconstructed it and the first joints were swiftly taken inside by Emma from Crab Apple Catering to later be served as the most hearty stew.

Once all the pieces were separated into trays we moved inside.
What followed was incredible. We learnt how to recognise every cut and steak by gently separating  muscle groups with finger tips and very careful use of knives only when necessary. We ended up with trays of steaks, stewing chunks and a pile of offcuts perfect for sausages. Not a single scrap of the 25kg's or so of meat was wasted.

Some of the loin was chilled before being gently pressed in olive oil then drizzled with lemon juice and Parmesan for Carpaccio. After Owens deft demo we got stuck in. The taste and sensations were stunning; they’ll stay with me for a very long time.

Dividing into 2 small groups, one group minced and seasoned their 'sausage' tray - cooking a little to make sure the mix was spot on. Then making umpteen sausages - later to be wrapped and snaffled away to impress loved ones.
The other group choosing their choice cuts to season and pan fry with thyme and garlic before resting in a tray of melted butter in a warming oven. Feeling every piece, cooking it, exploring every texture and the subtle but noticeable differences in taste was a revelation. We ate and ate..

Next up a short break for some of Emma's gorgeous soup by the fire and sharing bread. These folks really do know how to look after you and the whole experience is effortlessly authentic.

After feasting on numerous steaks, tucking into Emma’s gooey stew and going back for more we began the preparations for a stroganoff and wellington to finish the day off in style – all taking turns to chop, pan fry and construct.  Emma’s tip of wrapping the venison loin and mushroom duxelles in a pancake to keep the outer pastry crisp is a real keeper.

Stroganoff served on rustic toasts slipped down too easily (Emma’s favourite) followed by the tenderest wellington.  4pm arrived too soon and there was a palpable sense of guilt at not finishing everything we’d cooked. The 6 of us did have a pretty good go at eating the lot but thankfully we could take some back to try our skills at home.

A few days later, having tried to emulate Emma’s stew, I’m still struggling to imagine how we could have had a better time – the generosity, the manner in which Owen and Emma shared their knowledge, the location and the incredible tastes are an experience never to be forgotten.

Thanks a million guys – that was a truly fantastic day.

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