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Issue 2 - All in the Game

Scotland Magazine Issue 2
June 2002

 

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All in the Game

CHARLES MACLEAN AND A PANEL OF TASTERS GET THEIR TEETH INTO SOME SMOKED VENISON

Venison – the dark, gamey flesh of the Red Deer – tended to be reserved for the gentry in days gone by. Deer forests were the provinces of kings; great hunts were organised by chiefs and nobles – such as that attended by the English traveller John Taylor in 1618, laid on by the Earl of Mar (accompanied by the Earls of Murray, Enzie, Buchan, etc.) and involving several hundreds of clansmen, who drove the deer onto the swords and spears of the hunters. At the al fresco picnic which followed a day’s hunting near Braemar, Taylor happily reported that he was plied with: “Great variety and cheer; as Venison bak’t, sodden, rost, and stu’de Beefe, Mutton, Boates, Kid, Hares, fresh salmon, pidgeons, Hens, capons, chickins, Partridge, Moorecoots, Heathcocks, Caperkellies and Termagants: good Ale, Sack, White and Claret, Tent (or Allegant) and with most potente Aquavitae”.

In spite of this lordly association, the wild deer on the hill, like the wild salmon in the river, was considered by the Highlander to be fera naturae, owned by nobody and therefore available to any who could catch them. And that flesh which was not eaten immediately was cured in the roof of the peat-smoke filled black houses to provide provender during the long and hungry winter.

Notwithstanding this long tradition, smoked venison was rarely seen at the tables of Scottish gourmets in until recent years – although it was particularly favoured by Norwegian, Swedish, German and Polish connoisseurs.

Now, happily, there are a number of styles of smoked venison available in well-stocked delis. As we discovered, they vary in their smokiness, their gaminess, their texture – some like carpaccio, some like Parma ham, some like bresaola – and like the aforementioned Italian charcuterie, each style is appropriate to different usage and accompaniments. So far as I am aware, nobody on the panel for this tasting had ever done a comparative tasting of smoked venison before, so it was interesting to discover how similar was the degree of enthusiasm (or otherwise) when we compared scores at the end.

THE TASTERS
• Shaune Ayers is General Manager of The Bonham Hotel
• Tom Bruce-Gardyne is a freelance journalist based in Edinburgh
• Fidelma Cook writes for The Mail on Sunday
• Richard Glennie is Head Chef at Channings
• Sue Lawrence is a food writer and regular contributor to Scotland Magazine
• Charlie MacLean is Editor-at-large of Whisky Magazine
• Roddy Martine is Contributing Editor of Scotland Magazine

THE VENUE
The highly acclaimed Channings’ Fine Dining restaurant is one of Edinburgh’s finest eating treasures. Head Chef Richard Glennie places great emphasis on serving healthy Modern European cuisine with French influences. The cooking style reflects the full Channings experience with innovative, seasonal ingredients taken from across Scotland’s larder. Call Channings on +44 (0) 131 315 2226 or visit www.channings.co.uk.


OLD KNOCKELLY SMOKED VENISON - Score 9.25 Gold Medal
Price: £17.50($25) / 500g
Equivalent price per kilo: £35.00($50)
Contact: Old Knockelly Smokehouse, Scaur Water, Penpont, Thornhill, DG3 4NF, Scotland
Tel +44 (0) 1848 600 298 or Fax +44 (0) 1848 600 343
http://www.oksmoke.co.uk
Availability: Online, mail order, from the Old Knockelly shop. Available to US and Canada
Origin and type of venison: Scotland. Wild
Smoking process: Dry cured in salt and spices, smoked, air dried until mature

Starting with colour and ending with aftertaste, this sample drew different, if overwhlemingly positive, opinions:

Charlie thought it deep crimson and Tom felt it was an ‘incredible bright beetroot colour with an almost plastic sheen.’ This venison was uniformly found to have a moist texture. Sue Lawrence: “Far more succulent, nice texture. Cold smoked. Not very gamey but aware of it being venison. Could stand on its own. Would be nice with truffle oil and rocket salad.” Richard enjoyed the succulence as well. He referred to the ‘long gamey aftertaste. Good texture and good meat.’ He guessed that the venison was wild as did Fidelma, for whom this was a far more palatable sample than previous ones. Shaune found the finish strong and gamey.

Charlie, though not totally convinced, enjoyed the finish: “Very light smoke in finish. Smoke a little industrial also peppercorns. Peppercorn crust?” Roddy felt the aftertaste a little oily.

Tom’s notes summarise the overall view of the panel: “Stronger and totally different. Cold smoked. Much more gamey flavour. Slightly acrid finish. Slight taste of ash at the end?” This sample was clearly the tasters’ favourite.

CARMICHAEL ESTATE SMOKED VENISON - Score 8.75
Price: £18.81($n/a) / 500g
Equivalent price per kilo: £37.62
Contact: Carmichael Estate, Westmains, Carmichael, Biggar, Lanarkshire, ML12 6PG, Scotland
Tel +44 (0) 1899 308 336 Fax +44 (0) 1899 308 481
http://www.carmichael.co.uk
Availability: The farm shop (Biggar), farmers markets southern Scotland, mail order, website. Not currently available to US and Canada
Origin and type of venison: Carmichael Estate, farmed
Smoking process: Hot smoked over local soft and hard woods. Traditional brick kilns

This sample was the panel’s second favourite. To begin with the negative. Fidelma didn’t seem to enjoy herself very much at the tasting and many of her comments seemed to emphasise that she was suffering. For example, referring to this venison, which took her top marks: “Edible – almost. Looks venison-like. Could bear to take three forkfuls so it has to be a winner. In all though, I would never, ever eat smoked venison unless under threat of death.”

Other tasters managed to retain the positive. Shaune found the sample to have ‘good texture with no veins’. Richard’s notes were not dissimilar. Acurious note that appeared on taster’s notes more than once was a fishiness. Charlie: “Somewhat artificial in appearance but smooth texture. Arbroath smokies – somewhat fishy. Texture a bit rubbery and fishy.” This was clearly echoed by Roddy: “Kippery – pleasant texture if you like kippers. Moist.”

Tom didn’t sense any fish but thought it a little insipid: “Less smoky on nose. More dried out. Bit delicate. Bit bland. Chewy. Feels farmed.” Sue, like Fidelma, enjoyed it but would advise portion control: “Looks appealing. Fairly tasty and succulent. Could eat it but not too much.”


COLD SMOKED VENISON WITH WILD MUSHROOM MARINADE - Score 8.5
Price: £18.40($n/a) / 500g
Equivalent price per kilo: £36.80
Contact: Rannoch Smokery, Kinloch Rannoch, Pitlochry, Perthshire, PH16 5QD, Scotland
Tel +44 (0) 1882 632 344
www.rannochsmokery.co.uk
Availability: Mail order (100g packs), selected retailers UK. Soon to be available to US and Canada
Origin and type of venison: Scotland. Wild
Smoking process: Brining followed by smoking, cooking and marinading

The tasters enjoyed the delicate flavours of this sample. But for many the ‘crust’ spoilt it. Shaune was positive, drawing attention to the delicacy and the ‘smoky, pleasant aftertaste’. He commented favourably on the flavour.

Charlie picked up the key themes: “Very fine sliced (Parma ham). Deep crimson colour. Fairly heavy crust. Positive pleasant smokiness but light smoke in flavour – spoiled by chewy crust / rind.” This was echoed by Roddy – “Spoilt by crust. Smoky aroma, herby aftertaste. Deeper reddish colour” and then by Sue: “Looks very beautiful. Delicate. Tasty but unfortunate rubbery crust. Pleasant tasting but crust spoils it.” Tom clearly liked the sample but, like the others, felt let down:

“Definitely more gamey. Better balanced taste. Much more flavour of venison. Shame about rubber band rind.”

GALLOWAY SMOKEHOUSE SMOKED VENISON - Score 6.25
Price: £20.00($35.60) / 500g
Equivalent price per kilo: £40.00($71.20)
Contact: Galloway Smokehouse, Carsluith, Newton Stewart, DG3 7DN, Scotland
Tel +44 (0) 1671 820 354 Fax +44 (0) 1671 820 545
www.gallowaysmokehouse.co.uk
Availability: Galloway Smokehouse shop, mail order. Available to US and Canada
Origin and type of venison: Scotland. Wild
Smoking process: Pickle brined, cold smoked, hot smoked

Another sample suffering from an identity crisis? Charlie found all sorts of things going on: “Bacon pink, very light smoke. Scent of lettuce. Flavour of wild pork and lettuce. Chewy, ham-like texture – serve with mixed pickles. Moist texture but not oily, reminiscent of smoked duck.” Roddy pursued the porcine options:

“Hammish. If tasting totally blind I’d be convinced it was bacon or smoked ham. Nice with chutney.” As did Sue: “Looks like raw bacon. Like ham texture-wise. Strong smoky nose but not taste. Serve with orange or lemon chutney / pickle. As did

Tom: “Thick sliced ham. Bit dry. Not at all gamey. Light smoke. Nothing to write home about. Why not stick with ham? And Richard: “Slightly peppery. Strong smoky smell. Light taste. A little bit like a smoked ham.”And Fidelma: “Tastes like pork / ham / bacon. Looks like it too.”


ROAST SMOKED VENISON WITH OLIVE OIL & HERB MARINADE - Score 6.25
Price: £14.24($n/a) / 500g
Equivalent price per kilo: £28.48
Contact: Rannoch Smokery, Kinloch Rannoch, Pitlochry, Perthshire, PH16 5QD, Scotland
Tel +44 (0) 1882 632 344
www.rannochsmokery.co.uk
Availability: Mail order (100g packs), selected retailers UK. Soon to be available to US and Canada
Origin and type of venison: Scotland. Wild
Smoking process: Brining followed by smoking, cooking and marinading

Overall impressions of this sample was that the oil marinade was too clearly detectable and that venison flavours were not obvious enough. For example, Shaune noted: “Pastrami. Greasy appearance. Marinated in oil?” Charlie was direct: “Aroma of warm toast. Pleasant texture but slightly tough crust. Pastrami-like. Could be wild boar. Chewy crust. Peppercorn. Oil marinade? Somewhat oily. Eat with pickles.” The theme of lack of venison identity was picked up by Roddy: “Dry needs flavour but more like roast beef / pastrami.” Sue was postive but reserved: “Looks appealing, good aroma and not overpoweringly gamey. Like pastrami. Needs something to go with it. Long greasy aftertaste. Not unpleasant. Richard summed it up perfectly: “Light smoky smell. Chewy crusty, oily aftertaste. Tastes of pastrami.”

COLD SMOKED VENISON WITH OLIVE OIL & HERB MARINADE - Score 5.5
Price: £17.50($n/a) / 500g
Equivalent price per kilo: £35.00
Contact: Rannoch Smokery, Kinloch Rannoch, Pitlochry, Perthshire, PH16 5QD, Scotland
Tel +44 (0) 1882 632 344
www.rannochsmokery.co.uk
Availability: Mail order (100g packs), selected retailers UK. Soon to be available to US and Canada
Origin and type of venison: Scotland. Wild
Smoking process: Brining followed by smoking, cooking and marinading

The marinade dominated notes from the tasters on this sample. Shaune: “Marinated / oily. Thin slices. Crisp outer edge. Stringy yet less veiny. Not venison flavour.” Charlie picked up the texture, as well: “Dark red – marinaded. Somewhat stringy texture. Smoky – oak (glossy). Could be smoked lamb / mutton. Somewhat tough, chewy texture. Smoky aftertaste.”

Roddy felt the marinade was too much: “Pinker – sharper. Very thinly sliced. Very oily. Not immediately identifiable as venison, could be another smoked meat.” Richard’s notes were in a similar vein: “Non-descript flavour. Stringy texture. Oily aftertaste.”

Sue was not particularly keen on this one: “Far more smoky aroma. Most thinly sliced. Very oily. Couldn’t east a lot of that. Unpleasantly oily. Not very gamey. Slimy.”

The final words go to Tom:” Delicate. Heavily marinaded in oil? Smoke comes through and nothing else. Quite sharp.”


TOMBUIE SMOKED VENISON - Score 5.25
Price: £21.25($n/a) / 500g
Equivalent price per kilo: £42.50
Contact: Tombuie Smokehouse, Aberfeldy, Perthshire, PH15 2JS Scotland
Tel +44 (0) 1887 820 127 Fax +44 (0) 1887 829 625
www.tombuie.co.uk
Availability: Mail order. Not available to US and Canada
Origin and type of venison: Scotland. Wild
Smoking process: Cold smoked over oak

Fidelma was critical of this sample which she likened to over-salted bacon. Richard picked up the salt but was positive about the taste. Roddy was unequivocal in his comments about the sample being far too salty and ‘like streaky bacon’. It is hard to ascertain from Shaune’s notes whether he enjoyed it or not: “Stringy, salty with very strong flavour.” The strong, full flavours seemed to appeal to Charlie: “Looks like raw beef. Strong smoke smell (peat reek!). Briney ‘crofters venison’ somewhat crude but authentic – too salty and very peaty, but good flavour. Love it or hate it.” Sadly, Sue seemed to hate it: “Very off-putting appearance. Texture very bitty, too broken up. Very strong smoke. Too salty. Been in brine?”

It is obvious which side of the fence Tom sits: “Enough to set off the smoke alarm. Capstan full strength. With half a ton of salt and the contents of 10 ashtrays.”