Good game is difficult to come by if you are not from a family of hunters, but many Scandinavians are, as hunting is a very popular sport all over Scandinavia.
Wild meats have always been enjoyed as the flesh is rich-tasting and the difference from farmed animals is evident; the variety of their feed can be tasted in any wild animal. Venison is very lean compared to farmed meats, and free of pesticides as deer usually graze in the wild. In populated areas, the animals seem to prefer organic fields – and gardens.
The hunting itself is a matter for debate, and what species to hunt is another. As hunting is no longer a means of survival, the ethos of it is a mystery to a growing number of people. The issue is hot, especially in the north, where wolves and bears are once again able to move freely over countries’ borders after the fall of the Iron Curtain.
These species are indigenous to Scandinavia, but have been extinct or extremely rare for centuries, and are now coming back, scaring people and threatening livestock.
Political battles are fought over the right to shoot them. The same controversy surrounds the shooting of wild boar, which are returning to Denmark from the south, after an absence of 200 years. Farmers see them as a safety risk to their domesticated pigs, while others want to safeguard the returning population. But wild boars are numerous in southern Sweden, and are hunted there in great numbers.
There are numerous wild mammals and birds in Scandinavia, most of the hunted and eaten locally, and many can be hunted for private consumption, but not for sale.
These species must be enjoyed when living in or visiting Scandinavia, but are allowed to be hunted by the communities that have lived with them, and hunted them for centuries, as an acknowledgement of their traditional lifestyle.
Buying and storing
Good-quality game is not easy to find. If you don’t know a hunter personally, you must trust your butcher to know his game: for example, how old the animal was (there is a big difference between a young animal of 1-3 years and an old one of 4-12 years). Venison should be stored like all other mammal meats.
Young venison can be treated like domestic meats, which means that it can be fried, skewered and roasted, according to the cut, with beautiful results. Older meats should be minced or made into stews. As an everyday option, minced venison is actually very cheap and makes fabulous hamburgers. Frikadeller (Danish) and meatballs are also very good made with minced venison, served with the classic accompaniments for venison.
Venison is often smoked, salted and dried to keep the summer and autumn glut of fresh meat for winter. The Sami suovas, a piece of reindeer that is salted, smoked and dried, is the most renowned. There are several kinds, some very dry and salty, others more mildly cured. Norrland tjälknöl, another preserved meat, or one that makes use of the freezing climate, consists of a frozen leg of venison that is gently baked for 12 hours, then brined.
The traditional Scandinavian way to serve game is with a thick creamed sauce, potatoes, and a flavorsome, sweet accompaniment such as lingonberry jam, crab apple jelly or rowanberry jelly. Other accompaniments that work well are sweet- and-sour salads, such as an celery, apple and walnut salad or apple, celeriac and beetroot salad.
The whole arrangement is lovely, if heavy, and there are many, especially with hunting relatives, who grow tired of all the hullaballoo and simply serve venison as you would domesticated meats.
Scandinavian Game, written by Tor Kjolberg