Disclaimer: If posts about animal butchery upset you, then click away now. If images of meat upset you, definitely click away now. If you think that sourcing and enjoying venison from a managed native breed herd on the local Estate is unethical or bad for the planet then feel free to state your case in the comments below. I’m interested to see what you come up with.
Some of you may remember the gushing post I wrote about butchering a pig at the School of Artisan Food last year. Well, they invited me back… Despite having the choice of a vast array of enticing foodie courses (two day introduction to cheese-making anyone – yes bleedin’ please!) it turns out that I find the opportunity to try my hand at more butchery irresistible. I went for the day course in venison butchery.
The School of Artisan Food
I arose before the lark this morning to get the bus-train-train-taxi to the School, located on the dazzlingly beautiful Welbeck Estate. Yes, one of the downsides is definitely its accessibility by public transport. After signing in, we were greeted with the welcome sight of hot coffee and freshly made pastry. Buttery, light croissants with impeccable layers. Oozing pain au chocolate. Fragrant cinnamon rolls. Yes, the School does know how to look after its temporary students (and no doubt it’s more permanent residents too).
Our day was based around 2 fallow deer bucks that had been shot on the Estate a couple of days ago. It was fascinating to see the faint hint of spots on their hides as their coats were turning into their winter colouring. Before we met Bambi 1 and Bambi 2 (too much?) we had an introduction from professional butchers, charcutieres (a real word? I’m not sure) and all-round top chaps Rich Summers and Chris Moorby. With an incredible number of years of professional experience under their belts these two are truly the Dons of meat. What they don’t know about seam butchery can happily be scraped off your steak knife onto the side of the butcher’s block and discarded.
With their usual light humour, underpinned by evident knowledge and passion, Rich and Chris told us about the species of deer that can be found in the UK and hunting seasons. And soon we were hands on, up close and indeed personal with our new fallow friends. First skinning the carcasses. For some reason, and I don’t know why, I had never realised quite how like a rabbit a deer is. The skinning process has many commonalities, as does breaking the animal down into the primary cuts.
Of course, there are many ways to skin, and break down, a deer. We were shown two different approaches to the venison butchery process – how to obtain different cuts for different culinary purposes and how to minimise waste so that all of the animal is used. Of course, this was no time for a crash course in offal, but there are possibilities in that direction too. I was gutted this wasn’t part of the course today, but we already squeezed so much in… (Just a little joke there, sorry it was a bit offal.)
In very small groups, we all took it in turns to practice our new knife skills. Turns out I still suck at using the bone saw, but fine seam work with the knife is really my thing. There’s something inately satisfying in breaking the animal down using the guidance nature has provided for the least waste and the best cuts.
The lunch bell rings…
After several hours of intensely occupying and rewarding work it was time for lunch. As ever, the School did not disappoint. We’d worked up quite an appetite and so the homemade quiches were greedily gobbled up by our small party. There was a great range to choose from, including a delicate roast beef with mushrooms, tasty quinoa salad and selection of delectable student-made cheeses. I also enjoyed the simple green bean salad immensely.
After lunch there was no time for a quick power nap. We finished breaking down our venison. Throughout we were given expert tips on the different ways to break down the beast. Rich and Chris also advised how best to cook each of the cuts we had made. Much of the trim we used was then minced, along with a little pork belly fat. On to the sausage making!
Sadly, this group were devastatingly mature when it came to making sausages. Chris and I shared the odd muttered innuendo to break the tension. There’s nothing not fun and nothing not funny about gently loading the casing and squeezing in your meat.
I do enjoy making a tasty sausage, and I feel like I have a certain natural dexterity for twisting the links. I’m not sure when my new-found talent will come to the fore again. But definitely one for the CV. The recipe was simple, just a little added salt and dried herbs added to the venison trim and pork belly fat. What more do you want? We were told about the different animals the casings come from in order to obtain different sizes and then, regrettably, the day drew to a close. Sob.
The courses at the School are premium and priced to match. This is undeniable. However, both times I have had the privilege to visit I have been enthralled the whole time. This is a must-visit for foodlovers. You can learn new skills, gain knowledge and enjoy unreservedly delicious, high quality food. We even got a goodie bag with some of our cuts, some forcemeat and of course our venison sausages to take home. I cannot wait to try them! Already a venison lover, I am now also a total butchery convert. I just hope I get the chance to practice more in the future!
Thank you to the School of Artisan Food for inviting me along to attend this course – this was a gifted experience but of course, I just say what I see when I write it up!