It wouldn’t be the first thing I would opt for on a restaurant menu, but venison is seasonal and comforting during this coldest of seasons, especially when served sitting on a bed of pillowy, buttery mash or root vegetables.
It’s leaner than beef, lower in cholesterol and calories and always organic, since deer feed naturally on grass and wild foliage. But it can be a bit dry if not cooked properly, so I tend to remain wary about home-cooking it. A local butcher sells it in a variety of cuts, from venison pie to sausages, shanks to burgers, but I’m not sure how sales compare to other, more popular meat products.
We might have to get used to seeing it on meat counters, though, and given the far lower methane emissions, this would make sense. Deer produce a lower carbon footprint than cattle by 38pc and half that of lamb.
The Department of Agriculture is attempting to discover if more of us could be persuaded to eat it. Why? Well, there’s abundant supply.
Thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of deer roam Ireland. Far too many, in fact, and despite the fact that more than 40,000 are deliberately culled every year, the population continues to grow. Nobody knows how many there are because we’ve never counted – surprising when you consider that every sheep, cow and pig is tagged and logged.
The deer, which have roamed the Dublin park since the 17th century, would seem to be facing an uncertain future
If Eamon Ryan – of the tree-hugger party – has his way, there will be a cull. The minister seems to believe deer are pests, an annoyance, ruining land and wildlife habitats. He terms them “a major problem”.
However, the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) takes conflicting views. In 2015, it pointed to the “growing trend in vermination” of native species with which we share these lands, decrying mass culling as the “default reaction” when conflict arises between people and animals. It was referring at that time to red deer in Killarney National Park.
Recently though, it called for the fallow deer in the Phoenix Park to be culled, or at least found a better habitat, citing the lack of biodiversity as the deer chomp away on flowers, bushes and grass which deprive other animals and insects of a home.
The deer, which have roamed the Dublin park since the 17th century, would seem to be facing an uncertain future, one way or the other, as unlike red deer, they are not native, says the IWT.
But they are our heritage, counters Damien Hannigan of the Irish Deer Commission.
I lived not far from the Phoenix Park when my kids were small and we loved nothing better than watching – from a safe distance – the herds of these most beautiful creatures, from the gorgeous, speckled little fawns to the majestic antlered males as they roamed the fields, especially as it neared Christmas. I could enthral the children with tales of them getting ready for Santa, and seeing if they could spot Rudolph, Dancer or Blitzen. They always could.
Whether they could stomach seeing them on a plate so soon after Santa had dispensed with their duties, I’m not so sure.