Deer at Bridwell Park

Lord Ivar Mountbatten discusses the introduction of deer to Bridwell Park and puts the case for parkland venison.   

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(Above: Venison from Bridwell Park comes from wild Fallow and Red Deer)

The park at Bridwell was landscaped in about 1780 when the house was re-built in its present position after a devastating fire. The park is listed Grade II, but it was never originally designed to contain deer. However the previous owner encircled the 130 acres around the house with a security fence so that when I brought the estate in 1997 it was a logical step to make and, after a few modifications, I introduced deer into the park in the spring of 2000.

I bought 35 “in fawn” fallow does from the Powderham Castle herd and at the same time I bought a Hungarian buck from Houghton Hall in Norfolk thereby creating a new Bridwell strain. In 2011 I introduced red deer into the park for the first time.

We now have a herd of approximately 300 fallow and red deer, though the herd fluctuates in size over the year with the culled deer (taking place in the winter) being replaced with the new births in the summer.

Parkland deer are deemed by DEFRA as being “wild” as well as, of course, being game, which is an important designation to have and retain. All wild deer are legally allowed to be shot and gralloched (eviscerated) in situ for obvious reasons, as opposed to farmed deer, which as game are allowed to be shot on farm, but then have to be transported to a registered slaughter house for evisceration within a certain time frame after death. In addition farmed deer must have an anti-mortem inspection by a vet before any culling takes place; two pieces of red tape that load unnecessary financial burden on the small deer farmer. Deer park owners do not have to comply with these two pieces of legislation as long as they have the necessary competence (i.e. a deer stalking certificate) to shoot and gralloch in situ.

Bridwellvenison250In the early years I used to sell the carcasses to an outfit called Mid Devon Fallow who used to supply the restaurant trade in London but also had a stall in Borough market. Even though the park is registered organic and therefore by extension the deer in it, there apparently was no demand for organic deer as the general public perceived wild deer to be about as organic as you can get without having an actual certificate. Of course this is a complete fallacy as with truly wild deer one can not possibly know what they have been eating, whether it is farmer Giles’s turnips or farmer Jones’s corn, both of which may have been recently sprayed with pesticides.

Mid Devon Fallow only sold parkland venison from known suppliers as they were very particular about the origin and consistency of their product. Their customers demanded consistency which cannot be guaranteed from truly wild deer for the reasons stated above. Also, when buying wild deer from your local game dealer one is often taking pot luck with your purchase as you have no idea where the animal as come from, how it was shot, whether it was bled or gralloched properly and how long and in what conditions it has been hung.

Sadly as we all know there are a lot of disreputable people out there ready to make a fast buck (forgive the pun),the horse meat scandal being just one example. These are all variables which effect the taste and texture of the meat. A quick illustration of this point is the taste of Scottish red deer that graze on heather; the meat tastes totally different to that of lowland grass fed deer. Heather eating deer have that very distinctive “grousey” flavour that for some is an acquired taste.

chacuterie250Parkland deer such as ours are always head shot and are generally processed in an identical way each time, often by the same person (me!) They are predominantly grass fed, though in the autumn eat a lot of natural mast from the trees in the park, such as acorns and sweet chestnuts; in winter of course they are supplementary fed with our own organic silage and fodder beet grown on the farm.

(Above Right: The excellent Charcuterie range is destined to do well) 

Interestingly it was as a result of Mid Devon Fallow that I decided to start my own box scheme. I remember I was due to have a dinner party and asked MDF if they could let me have some of the tenderloin back to have as a main course. I was so appalled at what I was charged that the penny finally dropped and I created my own butchery and web portal. We started trading in 2009 using a part time butcher; however it soon became apparent this was not really economically viable as only the best cuts were being bought and I was being left with inordinate amounts of trim and my children were becoming increasingly rebellious at having to eat yet more venison burgers!

At this time I was also supplying Riverford Organics with their organic venison in the form of whole carcasses. The head butcher of their two  farm shops was a chap by the name of Julian Hodge and having discussed this problem as well as my desire to make venison jerky soon led Julian to come on board and develop our range of charcuterie, which was more or less what he was doing in his previous jobs. With Julian’s knowledge and guidance we now produce some truly stunning bresaola, various chorizos and salamis, coppa, bacon and jerky all in addition to our range of fresh meat cuts. The charcuterie is produced “on farm” (zero food miles) in our new charcuterie processing facility which is in the middle of its certification process with the Food Standards Agency. Even though we are still in the early days of this new venture the feedback from our customers has been incredibly positive and so I know we are onto a winner.

Please give our website a look and should you be tempted to purchase anything, by applying the code “CDS1” we will give you a 10% discount on any purchases up until Christmas, Click on this following link for more: touchofhart

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