There’s no finer way to travel than by tractor trailer, which is why my fellow students and I are in such high spirits as we bump down the track to River
Cottage towed behind a shiny blue New Holland. It’s an early start for a Saturday, the November mist still clinging to Devon’s dew-dampened hills.
The class assembles in the training kitchen, where we meet our teacher for the day. Connor Reed is a young, energetic chef whose enthusiasm for cooking and affection for game are obvious. To his immediate left hangs what appears to be a roe deer carcase; to his right sits a heap of dead ducks. Our objective is to turn these into a number of simple, delicious dishes, which we can use as a basis for experimentation at home.
This course isn’t for the squeamish. Butchery is a gory process, involving the removal of organs, feathers and bone from what was once a living creature. I’ve done this sort of thing before, as have most of my fellow students, but the amount of blood generated could be daunting to those more accustomed to buying meat from Waitrose.
Our first dish is a beautiful duck breast salad. Jerusalem artichoke and hazelnuts mingle on the plate, a crunchy medley of textures beneath my little pile of seared meat. It tastes and looks beautiful, far more sophisticated than anything I’d normally do with duck, and easier than it looks.
Next is an amalgamation of my favourite things in the world – pheasant, leeks, cream, cider and mustard. After an hour on the hob this profoundly autumnal dish is thick with flavour and, following the judicious application of fresh herbs, intensely aromatic. It’s fast and fun to prepare, quick to cook, and represents an imaginative alternative to the ubiquitous game curry normally served to beaters.
Our final piece of coursework is a pair of game pies. I’ve always thought pastry beyond my capabilities, but even I can follow Reed’s simple recipe. Hand-raising this pastry around my mixture of diced venison, partridge, pork and pheasant is a rewarding process, but nowhere near as satisfying as the finished product. I’m extremely proud to have made a pie from scratch, and plan to practise further at home.
A day-long course, including lunch, £240; Telegraph readers can receive 15 per cent off quoting GAME15 (offer valid until Jan 31 2019); rivercottage.net; River Cottage, Trinity Hill Road, Axminster, EX13 8TB
TWO MORE TO TRY LEITHS CHEF SKILLS, LONDON
Fast-paced, intensive game masterclasses suitable for experienced cooks. £205; leiths.com
GINGER PIG, LONDON
Beginner-friendly courses on feathered or furred game. £165; thegingerpig.co.uk