Game meat sellers in America, however, wanted the definition of venison expanded to include meat from other deer-like animals. Consequently, the USDA redefined the term in 1983 to say: “In culinary terms, ‘venison’ can be meat from deer, elk, moose, caribou, antelope, and pronghorn. However, when this meat is offered for sale, the name of the specific animal must be specified on the package label.”
The leg, haunch and saddle (top rear quarter) are the best cuts. If you want to develop a gamey flavour, you need to marinate or hang it for several days.
Fallow deer are males that drop their horns in the spring. These are thought to have the best quality meat.
Venison is a very lean meat, and consequently can cook up quite dry. To avoid this, venison is traditionally larded.
Deer were in Britain prior to the ice age, but disappeared during it. They were reintroduced, probably by the Normans. They were reintroduced into Ireland by 1244.
Beasts of the forests were the property of the King. You had to get his permission each time you wanted to hunt them. Nobles got around this by establishing game parks on their own lands, where they could hunt whenever they choose to.
There are three subspecies of Roe Deer: Chinese, European and Siberian. In the late Middle Ages (1338) in England, they were released from Royal Protection and classed as “beasts of the warren”. This meant that ordinary people could hunt them as a food source. By late 1500s, they were extinct in Wales, rare in England and in Scotland pretty much only in the highlands. The species was restablished through various game park schemes in the early 1800s. There were none in Ireland. Escoffier felt that Roe Deer meat was inferior to Fallow Deer.
Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) are native to the UK and Ireland. They were protected by Royal hunting privilege.
Literature & Lore
“Deer are herding into the E. Joseph cold rooms in Washington Market. Deer, this winter’s unrationed red meat, has a demand tenfold over that of previous winters. These deer come for the most part from private game preserves. One of the most popular of game treats in a man’s opinion is roast saddle of venison, the roast weighing three pounds and up, turned out well larded with salt pork, strapped around with bacon, ready for the roasting pan.” — Paddleford, Clementine (1898 – 1967). Food Flashes Column. Gourmet Magazine. February 1944.
Venison stems ultimately from the Latin word for hunting, “venatio”. At first “Venison” meant any game meat in English, but by the start of the 1600s people began applying it to deer meat exclusively.
Grigson, Jane. Venison. Manchester: The Observer. August 1970. Reprinted 21 April 2001.
USDA: Food Safety Of Farm-Raised Game. 14 April 2006. Retrieved 4 August 2006 from http://www.fsis.usda.gov//Fact_Sheets/Farm_Raised_Game/index.asp