This is Ludlow Marches Slow Food's third nomination for world class protection and recognition of a distinctive local food product has been agreed by Slow Food international’s headquarters in Italy, allowing it to enter the ’Ark of Taste.’ The Ark is a modern day version of the bible story ,seeking to protect and promote the existence of forgotten products that are specific to local heritage.
The Mortimer Forest Deer which has roamed wild in the lush Mortimer Forest since Saxon times, has supplied the Marches with delicious, tender meat for many years. A small group of enthusiasts are associated with the Ludlow Slow Food Group - ringleader Carolyn Chesshire, local food lover and owner of Lower Buckton House, chef Andy Link from Riverside Inn in Aymestrey and Ludlow’s local butcher Andrew Francis - have teamed together with Alan Reid, the Forestry Commission’s Ranger, whose job is to cull the deer. In Alan's words ‘in the modern world deer has no natural predator so it is absolutely essential that man intervenes otherwise the woodlands would struggle to be the home for other important wildlife.’
The culling is managed by the Forestry Commission and the meat is now widely available in local butchers and on a growing number of top restaurant menus. Andy Link, Head Chef of the Riverside Inn, Aymestrey is a huge fan and connoisseur of the meat. He adds, ’Venison offers great flavour and texture and is totally sustainable and ethically sourced, it’s a ‘win win’ choice for our menu and our customers love it.’ It is because Ludlow still has traditional high class butchers such as Andrew Francis, who prepares the meat for customers and chefs alike, that it is so readily available.
Sue Chantler, Chair of the Ludlow Group comments, ‘We are constantly promoting the venison in workshops, events and meals so that people become exposed to something which is a bit different. It is a great choice for meat, very lean, totally free from antibiotics and completely free range. Its flavour is a lot less gamey than other options so we seek to extol its virtues, with the aim to create greater demand for it amongst those who live in and around the area.
Two species of deer roam the Mortimer Forest at present, these being roe (Capreolus capreolus) and fallow (Dama dama), however, muntjac deer (Muntiacus reevesi) are on the boundary and are sure to become part of the forest ecology in the near future. Roe deer are native to the UK, but were not known in these parts until the 1970’s. They are now widespread and may outnumber the traditional fallow. Fallow deer were introduced to this island by the Normans during the 11th century and our herd now are descendants of the ancient hunting forests of Mocktree, Deerfold and Bringewood. A percentage of the fallow deer of Mortimer Forest are famous for a particular characteristic, a long haired coat, and this is the only place in the world they are to be found. First described in the 1950’s by Forestry Commission ranger Gerald Springthorpe, they are noticeable by a generally scruffier coat, long eyelashes, long tail, long ear tufts and a curly hairstyle!
Mortimer Forest straddles the Shropshire & Herefordshire border near the town of Ludlow.
Why it is at risk
- A lack of information for consumers about its nutritional value
- Misunderstandings about flavour
- Cultural prejudice – a sentimental attitude to deer
- Loss of skills on the part of the consumer, including chefs
- Poor presentation by retailers of a meat which can appear challenging
- A lack of education about the environmental risks 'use it or lose it'
- A lack of education about the need to cull (shoot) the animals as part of the active management of the deer and the ancient forest, and of the seasonality of supply due to the closed (breeding) season.
- Mortimer Forest is only 2000 acres
Don't lose me . . . cook me!
For more information about other products that are in the Ark of Taste in the UK click here.