01 Sep Grousing about the Scottish game season
In Scotland, the game season usually begins with a bang – literally – on the 12th of August. Traditionally, this day marks the start of the hunting season for grouse and restaurants vie to be the first to feature the game bird.
This year the Glorious Twelfth, as it is sometimes known, passed off relatively quietly. Covid-19 did not stop keen hunters from heading to the moors but there was less of a fanfare than usual. Even if there were fewer front page pics of happy hunters brandishing a brace of grouse than normal, the autumn is prime time for those who like the earthy flavours of game birds. The Twelfth kick starts the game season but it gains momentum in September as partridge, duck and goose come into season.
It is safe to say that eating game is not for everyone. Many people like mass produced chicken because its relative lack of flavour makes it a good carrier for other flavours. Those who like the comforting blandness of chicken might find the rich flavours and textures of grouse, partridge or pheasant to be too strong. Too wild.
Taste the countryside
Others savour the notion that the meat they are eating has a taste that reflects the countryside in which the bird lived. It might be fanciful to say that you can directly taste the heather diet of grouse by the time it is on the plate. However, it certainly has a unique flavour albeit one which is hard to pin down or describe accurately by referencing other meats. The catch-all term gamey works well if you have eaten wild game but is not much help if you have not.
Arguably, game has an image problem that goes beyond unfamiliar flavours. In Scotland, unlike most of Europe or North America, discussions about class will often accompany talk of game hunting. You don’t have to be wealthy to take part in a driven grouse shoot but it certainly helps. That said, the idea that all hunting and shooting is always the exclusive preserve of tweedy toffs is not true. But it is a persuasive and, for many, attractive idea.
Game shooting is not without wider controversies. Plenty of people find the idea of shooting an animal for sport to be, at best, distasteful. There is certainly an argument that game shooting is wasteful. There is not enough of a market for all of the birds which are bred to be shot and many end up in landfill. Reserving vast tracts of Scotland as shooting estates for the pleasure of a few also raises questions about land ownership and management. Swathes of the Highlands might look significantly different if there were no grouse moors.
Game for grouse?
These are all valid points which will be debated for years to come. This is not the forum for that debate but there are counterpoints to the issues mentioned above. In the meantime, those who enjoy different flavours and want a taste of Scotland might want to track down a restaurant menu featuring Scottish game.
And if you enjoy cooking for yourself then game offers many challenges and opportunities. Ironically, while game shooting may have an exclusive reputation, butchers sell many game meats at great value prices. Especially as the season moves into full swing and supply outstrips demand.
Image attribution: the above image of a Red Grouse was taken from Wikipedia.