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You never know

I once knew a man who had a small horizontal sign above his front door frame, up against the ceiling. If you looked up, you saw it just before you stepped outside: “You never know.” The more time I spend in the woods, the more sense the motto makes.

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Accounting for taste: What’s with “gamey”?

Just before the New Year, I was talking with a hunter I know. He mentioned how much he enjoys preparing venison for non-hunters. So often, they’re surprised by how good it tastes. Only one thing bothers him. After they declare it to be delicious, they’ll say, “I expected it to be gamey.”

“I’m so tired of people saying they expect it to be ‘gamey,’” he told me. “Venison is about the nicest meat I can imagine.”

A few nights later, a couple of friends were here at our place for dinner. Among the dishes on the table was a bowl of venison meatballs. I told one of our guests how fond Cath is of that particular recipe. “Oh,” he asked, “does it help get the gamey flavor out?”

The gamey flavor. What is with that?

Is this notion stuck in people’s heads because they’re freaked out by the idea of eating wild animals? Is it rooted in cultural and economic history, in the feeling that game-consumption is a sign of poverty?

Are people speaking from experience? Have they been subjected to horrendous cooking? Have they been traumatized by eating venison that was poorly processed, or was “aged” until it turned green? (For a not-so-scientific investigation into the effects of such handling, see “The Taste Controversy Ends” from the U.S. Venison Council.)

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe, in my decade as a vegan, I simply forgot what domestic meat tastes like.

Cath and I do eat plenty of local chicken and turkey, but when it comes to red meat, venison is the only flavor I really know. When the weather warms, I’ll be slicing thin strips of backstrap, sautéing them lightly, and serving them over fresh salad greens from the garden. Cooking venison this way doesn’t get rid of any of the flavor, thankfully.

Maybe there’s nothing wrong with beef, but I expect it might taste farmy.

© 2011 Tovar Cerulli