Venison is the term applied to deer meat. Once thought to be more of a food source for the poor, it is now prized as a culinary delight. It is also much higher in nutritional value than bovine meat because it is lower in fat and contains far more protein.
Today’s venison may be grown on a deer farm; these are mostly the source for restaurants and groceries where it is sold. Some deer farms are also hunting grounds, where hunters can shoot the deer and then get help preparing the meat to take home. The popularity of deer farms is rising along with the popularity of the meat.
Venison may also be obtained in the wild, in certain areas where hunters are allowed. Deer hunting in the US is only allowed during certain times of the year, usually October through May. Depending upon the locale, either mule deer or whitetail deer are the primary sources. The meat of elk and moose are not considered venison.
The popularity of this meat has given rise to some health concerns. Deer can suffer from a form of Chronic Wasting Disease, which is similar to Mad Cow Disease. In some states, deer are tested for the disease prior to being prepared and eaten. However, there has not, as yet, been a case of Chronic Wasting Disease as a result of eating venison.
Another health concern, especially in hunting wild deer, is the possibility of contracting Lyme Disease. Deer ticks are known carriers of Lyme Disease, a bacterial infection which, left untreated, can cause lasting fatigue and weakness. Most studies suggest that Lyme Disease cannot be contracted by eating venison. However, preparing the freshly killed deer and hunting in the areas deer frequent can increase exposure to ticks that carry the disease.
Fortunately, the hunting season coincides with the dormancy period in most ticks that carry Lyme Disease, so exposure is minimal. However, to avoid exposure to Lyme Disease and Chronic Wasting Disease, those skinning and preparing the meat should wear gloves for extra protection.
The most prized cuts are the chops, or rib portions, and the rear or haunch. Deer entrails are not generally used, but when used are called humble. From the rib, venison fillets are tender. The haunch can be used as a roast or ground to make patties. When hunting, caution should be taken to remove all buckshot, as this can make for an unpleasant addition to a dish.
One popular use of venison roasts is to cut the meat into cubes and make stew. Venison pot roasts are also favored. Other recipes suggest ground patties, or grinding for use in meatballs or spaghetti.
Wild venison has a gamier flavor, and since one of the foods deer like to eat is the leaves of bay trees, bay compliments it well. In Germany, the meat is often cooked with fruit like cherries or served with a cherry sauce, as the gamy flavor goes well with certain acidic fruits. If you don’t have access to a supplier or do not hunt, venison can sometimes be purchased through special order at butcher shops. When this is not available, it can also be ordered online through a number of suppliers.