Chop. Chop. Tear. Pull. Chop.
Glass of beer, quick swig, wipe of brow.
Chop. Tear of skin, peep of flesh, smell of gut. Swig of beer.
I do like pheasant. Especially when I’ve got a set of kitchen implements that cost more than the car outside our house.
Chop, wipe, swig — we’re in a kitchen at River Cottage, stations piled with gleaming kit, various (carnivore-eating) journalists seeing their first ever dead animal, and the freedom to cook with beer. Badger idea. Good one at that.
But first, back to the night before, a cosy meal at the River Cottage, the cottage industry set up within spitting distance of Lyme Regis by Hugh Whatisname. Swig of beer, Stinger it is, minty grassy aroma, earthy in that it makes you think of the land, good impressions, hard to pin down, bit like the stink of the farmyard that manifests itself in a good red Burgundy, elemental, herbal and fresh.
Food. Try this with the Stinger we’re asked. Ham rarebit or maybe hot smoked pheasant breast. Carrot and cumin hummus with which the Stinger seems to act as if it were champagne, scrubbing the palate clean of the creaminess of the hummus, before letting the flavours of carrot and cumin come through.
Sit down, ladies and gentlemen. Another glass. Golden Champion. Sweet elderflower notes grabbing a slice of smoked pollock and taking it for a twirl around the electric ballroom of the mouth. Sound of heavy boots on the polished floor as the smokiness of the fish thumped and trumped its way through the delicate sweetness of the beer. A pass but only just.
Then there’s deer on the plate: roast loin of venison, slow roast shoulder made into faggots, fallow I’m told — knock knock who’s there, why it’s the Poacher’s Choice, Badger’s strongest beer. A riot of health shop liquorice and a groan of roasted grains and sweetish stone fruit: it lifts the slow roast shoulder and exhibits a JS Bach-like moment of counterpoint, sweetness of the beer against the meaty saltiness, well-toasted toastiness just shy of being burnt in league with the deep, dark urgency of the liquorice.
Meanwhile we’ve a glass of Pickled Partridge alongside, shoulder to shoulder, a band of two bottled brothers, this beer, not so sweet, currant cake fruitiness, acts as a chaperone for the venison as it disappears down the throat.
Then pudding. Not for me, but all around, sticky toffee pudding alongside Blandford Fly; as they might have said in Friends if it had been about a gang of bottled beers hanging about instead of irritating thirtysomethings: the ginger one. I’m told it took a peek beneath the skirts of the toffee coating.
Next morning it’s back to River Cottage. Kitchen. Pheasants. Stations. Chef’s briefing. A haunch hanging up. Provenance. Prepping. Chop. Evisceration. Spill a handful of herbs and vegetables into the stock of pheasant, mallard legs, venison and salted belly pork. Guys, we are told, you will chose a beer and then prepare and cook your lunch.
Away we go, Exmoor Jane and I, a bottle of Poacher’s Choice. Reason. The making of rowanberry jelly each summer gives us the making of a sense of being close to the land. Sweetness, hence Poacher’s Choice. And by golly it works.
Elsewhere BWOTY Pete Brown is adding spices to his stew, and the beardless Melissa Cole is deep frying parsley. No matter, oh and we all make a fruit cake, ours with Badger’s cider. Rather nice, all those currants, sultanas and cinnamon.
And then it’s food. Eat, drink, eat, drink. Merry.
Badger move into a new brewery soon and there are signs that they might be looking at having a bit of fun with some limited edition beers. Dark and strong, more hops, I said, oh yes, but and then I said Brett? Hey this is England, yon fool I told myself.Oh and I once interviewed a man who ate badger before it was placed on the proscribed list in the 1960s. What was it like I asked? A bit like pig, though stronger in flavour he replied. And being from Bridgwater, no doubt he had a glass of Starkey Knight & Ford to wash it down his gullet.