Having grown up in Bavaria on the fringe of the forest, Philipp Dorr, head chef at Charley Noble in Wellington, has a well-developed taste for wild venison, which he still indulges at countryside restaurants whenever he returns home.
Philipp points out that wild venison has far greater depth of flavour, even though it may be marginally tougher. (It's also free of the liverish or skatole taints sometimes found in clover-fed farmed Cervena.) To tenderise his venison, Philipp brines it with spices (cinnamon, star anise, juniper berries) and then cold-smokes it before a final chargrilling over mānuka embers on Charley Noble's famous Zesti grill.
Being wild, feral venison is by definition organic. Only healthy animals survive in the wild and the first human a wild deer ever sees is probably the hunter who shoots it. More importantly, wild venison holds an ethical advantage: by eating this pest which is decimating our native forests, the consumer is doing the environment a favour.
Yet since the slump in the global feral venison market in recent years, significantly fewer New Zealand wild deer are being shot and populations are back on the rise, to the point where there's now gloomy talk of having to reintroduce 1950s-style deer culling – this time as helicopter search and destroy missions, which would leave the carcasses to rot.
"It doesn't make sense," says Dorr.
Charley Noble's venison provider, Awatoru, is an artisan fishing and wild food supply company on the Kapiti coast, which sources its wild venison from the Tararua ranges, Kahurangi National Park and Fiordland National Park.
The inspiration for "Wild Awatoru venison rump, spinach, wild rocket pesto, vanilla and cauliflower, Pāmu deer milk puree" began when Philipp was given a sample of deer milk, which has just been launched on to the market and is presently only being sold to the hospitality industry.
A world first, developed by a Southland deer farming couple, Pāmu Deer's Milk is not just a gimmick: it has a clean, almost nutty taste, and while it is milk, it is as thick as cream, having double the fat and protein of cow's milk.
As soon as he tasted this product, Philipp told his colleagues, "we have to use this somehow".
It seemed logical to put it with the meat from the same animal. The deer's milk is mixed into a smooth puree of cauliflower and the genius touch is a dash of vanilla, which gives the impression of added sugar where in fact there is none.
To round out the rhythm of this dish, Philipp added a green element – spinach and a conventional pesto made with "wild rocket" (which is actually cultivated, but has serrated leaves and is more peppery than domesticated round-leaved rocket).
A tip: When cooking venison at home, be aware that it has next to no fat, so has to be grilled rapidly and served medium rare, so as not to dry out, or else you must casserole or braise the venison on a long, slow heat.
Find out more about our Pamu Deer Milk at www.pamunewzealand.co.nz