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Taste Test: Deer Me

Vermont farm offers venison variety

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Even if you don't get up before dawn and stalk deer through the chilly woods, you can still feast on Vermont venison - it'll just be a little less wild. The Ridgeway Red Deer farm in Whitingham, Vermont, sells red deer goodies such as summer sausage, jerky and Slim Jim-style meat sticks. All are "heart-healthy products at reasonable prices with prompt, courteous service," their website boasts.

Best of the bunch: the summer sausage. Brick-red and marbled with pearly fat, it has a meaty aroma and a complex flavor with a surprising touch of sweetness. That sweetness makes it a natural partner for pungent cheese. Served with wheat crackers and Cabot Hunter's X cheddar, it makes an appropriate deer-season treat.

The jerky doesn't come off as well. Its shiny, smooth exterior is reminiscent of plastic. Jerky should be thicker and more textured - gnarled like something that's been dried over a smoky campfire rather than in some sort of machine.

The taste doesn't help - the seasonings drown out the flavor of the meat. According to the website, it's "chopped and formed with smoke flavoring added." If you need to sink your teeth into some Vermont jerky, stick with Rosie's of Swanton. Their marinated beef strips are rustic-looking and tasty, and come in nine flavors.

The Ridgeway meat stick is better. Drier than the sausage, it has a nice tang while still tasting of venison. It's a good bet for road-trip snacking - especially if you're put off by the "mechanically-separated chicken" listed among the ingredients in "beef" Slim Jims.

Order from Ridgeway's unintentionally campy website at http://www.ridgewayreddeerfarm.com.

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