Country Living (UK) - - Contents - For more in­for­ma­tion, visit se­ri­ous­ly­good­veni­

We look at the de­li­cious in­gre­di­ents farmed, fished, made and grown in the UK. This month: veni­son

To high­light the de­li­cious, quin­tes­sen­tial in­gre­di­ents that are farmed, fished and grown up and down the coun­try, we meet some of the re­mark­able pro­duc­ers who help bring them to our ta­ble

It’s very windy, very wet and very cold at Bob and Jane Pren­tice’s small hill­top farm near Cu­par in Fife on this Oc­to­ber morn­ing. The hus­band-and-wife team are out on their rounds feed­ing their live­stock, which in­cludes a 300-strong herd of beau­ti­ful red deer. Hav­ing grazed on 15 acres of clover-rich pas­ture all sum­mer, the an­i­mals

now over­win­ter­ing in two barns, large and airy enough for them to run about in. Jane forks some silage into a ring feeder for an ea­ger crowd of around 40. “They’re still wild-ish, very alert and stick in a group,” she says of the crea­tures that have been farmed in Bri­tain for less than 50 years. “They can kick with all four legs at the same time and jump from stand­ing, hence our eight-foot-high fences” – not to men­tion the oc­ca­sional use of a riot shield – “but they also qui­eten down quickly un­der cover and get into the rou­tine.”

Tra­di­tion­ally, veni­son came from stalk­ing only, which takes place in au­tumn and win­ter, hence its rep­u­ta­tion as a lim­it­ededi­tion, sea­sonal food. It wasn’t un­til 1973, when the UK’S first deer farm was es­tab­lished nearby by John and Ni­chola Fletcher – and oth­ers fol­lowed suit – that the meat be­came avail­able all year round. With what many de­scribe as a less gamey, milder and sweeter taste, this cul­ti­vated ver­sion be­came pop­u­lar. While Bob and Jane run the farm, the business side of the ven­ture is looked af­ter by Vikki Banks. Vikki first came across the veni­son raised by the Fletch­ers when she sold it through her mail-or­der ar­ti­san food com­pany. As a big fan of the en­ter­prise, when the chance came to work for them in 2009, she jumped at it, on the pro­viso that she first spend a year gath­er­ing knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing on a chicken farm. It was def­i­nitely the right ca­reer move: such was her pas­sion that af­ter three years work­ing for the com­pany, she bought it.

In or­der to mod­ernise the business and broaden the meat’s appeal, Vikki re­branded it, chang­ing the name from Fletch­ers of Auchter­muchty to Se­ri­ously Good Veni­son. With Bob and Jane rais­ing the herd, she, with the help of gen­eral man­ager Jenny Law, over­sees the butch­ery (which also pro­vides ser­vices for other small pro­duc­ers), sales and mar­ket­ing from a base on the out­skirts of Perth, which over­looks the River Tay. From here, she and Jenny work hard, not just for Se­ri­ously Good Veni­son but also to change the im­age of deer meat for the whole in­dus­try. Among the key mes­sages Vikki aims to con­vey is that veni­son’s high price tag is just a per­cep­tion, not a re­al­ity, and quotes a joke that she hears time and again: ‘Veni­son’s dear, isn’t it?’ “It’s a very fill­ing meat be­cause it is finely grained and dense, and lean so it doesn’t shrink when cooked. You need less of it per per­son, so 450g in a casse­role – which costs £10 – along with your veg, will feed four or five.” Be­ing young, fe­male and down-to-earth, she and Jenny are quite the op­po­site of the hunt­ing-shoot­ing-fish­ing, mid­dle-aged men in tweed many would ex­pect to run a business like this. As part of their ef­forts to in­tro­duce veni­son to a wider cus­tomer base, they spend many of their Satur­days and Sun­days serv­ing it in the form of street food (such as burg­ers, sausage rolls and kofta wraps) at farm­ers’ mar­kets, fes­ti­vals and wed­dings, as well as cor­po­rate and sport­ing events, from Bella, a con­verted 1980s fire ser­vice truck. In fact, such is Vikki’s ded­i­ca­tion, there have been only three week­ends in eight years that she hasn’t worked.

Along­side pro­mot­ing veni­son’s ver­sa­til­ity, Vikki is keen to spread the word about the ben­e­fits of what she calls a ‘su­per-meat’ and ‘won­der food’ – it’s low in fat, very high in pro­tein and a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, iron and vi­ta­mins B6 and B12. In fact, she goes so far as to call one of the com­pany’s best­selling prod­ucts a ‘diet pie’: “Yes, it is made with pas­try,” she says, with a smile, “but aren’t all good pies? They’re the health­i­est pies you’ll ever eat be­cause in­side is the best kind of meat.” It’s ob­vi­ously fairly con­vinc­ing – as many as 2,000 can be sold over the course of a sin­gle event.

The high con­tent of fatty acids in Se­ri­ously Good Veni­son prod­ucts owes much to the deer’s grass diet, which is only sup­ple­mented with pota­toes – and a lit­tle wheat for the young ones – in win­ter. Through spring and sum­mer, when they need it to put on weight, the sward grows quickly and the view of the herd free-rang­ing over the green hills is a scene wor­thy of a fairy­tale. The an­i­mals lead what must be among the best pos­si­ble lives for live­stock. Bob and Jane don’t use pes­ti­cides, fungi­cides or her­bi­cides on their

land and they al­low the deer to semi-hi­ber­nate in win­ter, re­sult­ing in dif­fer­ent growth rates, while some other farm­ers put on lights to en­cour­age them to eat when their ap­petite nat­u­rally drops dur­ing the shorter days. Buy­ing in weaned calves that were born at the end of May and early June, dur­ing the an­nual au­tumn rut, from farms in the Aberdeen and Aviemore ar­eas, they raise them for over a year on their land and handle them reg­u­larly. On Tues­days, fol­low­ing a vet­eri­nary in­spec­tion the pre­vi­ous day, a quick dispatch by stun­ning and shoot­ing in the field is fun­da­men­tal in en­sur­ing the herd ex­pe­ri­ences as lit­tle stress as pos­si­ble and, there­fore, pro­vides meat of su­pe­rior flavour and tex­ture. In the wild, a kill isn’t al­ways clean and can take two or more shots, po­ten­tially caus­ing suf­fer­ing, which could af­fect the qual­ity of the re­sult­ing product. “With farmed, you know its prove­nance, the age of the beast, the qual­ity of its feed and the way it was dis­patched,” Vikki says in her of­fice, which il­lus­trates her pas­sion for veni­son, from the deer-dec­o­rated clock and the antlers on dis­play to the pho­to­graph in which a white stag is run­ning with a group of hinds.

De­spite the year-round avail­abil­ity, sales at Se­ri­ously Good Veni­son still peak be­tween Novem­ber and Jan­uary, when Vikki does 70 per cent of her to­tal an­nual business. “The phone rings and rings,” says Jenny, who packs and mails out ev­ery or­der, for which the meat is first hung for up to 14 days, li­ais­ing with Bob and Jane on a weekly ba­sis to keep up with de­mand. “The last two weeks be­fore Christ­mas are in­sane.” Jenny and Vikki ex­change a know­ing look as they glance at the cal­en­dar and be­gin the count­down to their busiest time of year, then raise their eye­brows and burst into ner­vous laugh­ter. With a team like this not only pro­duc­ing top-qual­ity veni­son but cham­pi­oning new ways to eat it and its health ben­e­fits, we can be con­fi­dent that there’ll be an ap­petite for the tra­di­tional meat for years to come. Read on for some de­li­cious recipes with veni­son.

The deer have a mainly grass-based diet. The rich soil and northerly as­pect of the farm mean that the grass is in plen­ti­ful sup­ply when the herd needs it most. John (above) es­tab­lished the first deer farm in 1973. Vikki Banks (op­po­site) owns Se­ri­ously Good Veni­son

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