First, in case you don’t know, venison tastes amazing. When treated right, from fawn to plate, deer meat brings to mind beef, but in the most subtle way, and possesses a mild sweetness that’s uncommon in land-based proteins. Cooked no more than medium rare, or otherwise stewed until tender, you’ll wonder why you waited so long to start enjoying this abundant lean red meat.
Second, best we can tell, there’s no deer better for the table than Ohio white-tailed deer. That’s not to say there are no good eating deer outside of Ohio; it’s just that despite the marketing materials and menu speak, Ohio deer more than holds its own against imports from the likes of New Zealand and Texas’ Hill Country, two places where grocery store and restaurant venison typically come from.
Also, have you looked around? Why would we import venison? Would we import underperforming professional sports teams? Lake-effect snow? No, we wouldn’t.
There are two legal ways to get your hands on Ohio deer. Our preferred method is hunting; specifically, using a shotgun loaded with slugs to get a deer, or four, the bag limit if you’re hunting around here. If this is the path you choose, it’s important to plan accordingly and keep in mind that shotgun season is brief, running from December 2–8 this year. Perhaps you’re a masochist or a Luddite? In that case we suggest archery, and if that’s your thing this year you can be hunting from the end of September all the way through early February. You can check out the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ website for more information. And while it’s not required, if you’re new, we suggest a hunter safety course. Not so much for you, but for the rest of us. Whether you’re out there with a shotgun, compound bow, or crossbow, it’s hard to imagine an activity that brings you more in tune with nature. Plus, should your hunt prove successful, you’ll be rewarded with the unbeatable experience of dining on fresh venison tenderloin while you warm up after spending a long winter’s day in the woods. That, and the prospect of a freezer full of the rest of the animal to hold you over until next year.
Maybe December is a bad month for you. Or maybe you don’t like guns or arrows or have any friends who hunt. That’s okay. There’s another way to get Ohio deer, only this time it’s farmraised. In an innovative push, Trevor Clatterbuck, founder of the burgeoning local foods emporium Fresh Fork Market, has worked with three groups: breeders raising “shooting deer,” which are big bucks destined to be trophy hunted on preserves in states less blessed than our own; the Ohio Department of Agriculture; and slaughterhouses. By bringing these groups together, Trevor is able to offer a farm-raised product that provides a sensible alternative to the wild DIY option.
Although a fast-growing industry in rural communities, raising deer hasn’t caught on like the raising of cattle and pigs. There are many thoughts on why that is—the need for eight-foot fencing to keep the deer in, the lack of venison’s popularity as table fare, the fact that the woods are full of them—but at the end of the day, there just aren’t that many folks raising deer as food. The growth in the industry is driven in large part by breeders raising shooting deer that are sold to be “hunted” on fenced-in private land. But for just about every future trophy buck produced, there’s an antlerless doe that’s deemed unworthy of even the right to be shot in a landowner’s fenced backyard. That’s where Fresh Fork comes in.
By taking the unwanted females from breeders raising shooting deer, and working with a slaughterhouse and the ODA to have them processed for legal sale, Fresh Fork Market is able to offer its customers Ohio deer. Sampled last fall at a butcher classcum-dinner hosted by Bar Cento with the Fresh Fork Market venison prepared by executive chef Adam Lambert, it was clear that this meat holds its own not just against imports, but even our own wild deer. So should a deer hunt not be in your future, give Fresh Fork Market a call. If you’re anything like us, it won’t take much more than a taste of Ohio venison for it to become a new red meat staple on your table.