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Is "gamey" really such a bad thing?

I'm always a little annoyed when I read lines like "lamb was great; not at all gamey" or "yuck, the goat curry had a gamey taste" in restaurant reviews. Why has gamey become a pejorative term? I believe "gamey" is just something that some people like and some don't; like sourness, bitterness, or cilantro, and shouldn't be treated like an inherently negative attribute.

As someone who is fond of powerful and pungent flavors, gamey taste is something I actively seek out. Wouldn't people who don't like strong-tasting meat be better off just avoiding lamb, duck legs, mutton, etc. instead of eating it and hoping that it doesn't display too much of its intrinsic flavor? Obviously, if something is rotten or past its prime, that's a legitimate complaint, but I don't think gamey-ness necessarily has anything to do with rancidity and may actually be how things are supposed to taste.

Is it hypocritical for Chowhounders to bemoan the practice of breeding the flavor out of produce in favor of consistent appearance while also turning their noses up at meat that is properly handled but is just too flavorful for them?

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  1. jfood agrees. there are times that he is looking for a more "gamey" flavor and other times less. That's why jfood never orders veal parm in a resto, the quality is usually too gamey for jfood's taste, but he would order a veal chop milanese if he was looking for a more dense flavor.

    so it depends and jfood is glad they mention the depth of flavor in some of their meats so there is no surprise on first bite.

    13 Replies
    1. re: jfood

      not sure how veal could be considered "gamey" since it's raised in a pen and deprived of light and exercise...pretty bland stuff.

      1. re: whs

        Agree. The main reason I don't eat veal is because of how the animals are "raised". The second major reason -- and that certainly helps avoiding this type of meat -- is that I find it incredibly bland.

          1. re: EWSflash

            I have a couple of veal loin chops in the freezer - got them at the farmer's market, they're pasture-raised and had a nice (if short) life. Gotta make 'em soon and see what they taste like.....

          2. re: linguafood

            Rose veal is differently raised, tastes different and obviates the senseless slaughter of male calves for economic reasons. Gamey though? I doubt it,

            1. re: Adeplume

              Dairy calves have to be female, so the thousands of males born become veal. That is no more senseless than slaughtering lambs or young chickens.

              1. re: jayt90

                Yes jayt90 that was my point, though badly put I'll admit. The senseless slaughter to which I referred was the waste of good prospective veal by killing male calves at birth just because they're male.

                1. re: Adeplume

                  Sorry, I misunderstood. I know the Mennonite and Amish dairy farmers keep the little Holstein "bullies" for veal, but I don't know about the big dairy farms.

                  1. re: jayt90

                    Tasty stuff in my view. Here in France our local farmer divides all his calves by sex and the girls stay on his farm and the boys all go to his son's farm to be raised for veal. Unfortunately as far as I'm aware the specifically dairy farms don't necessarily have that luxury and the male calves are merely wasted as too expensive to feed. However I am wandering from the point. All I can say is I have never tasted veal with a gamey flavour nor have I ever found well hung beef taking on a gamey flavour. I suppose that doesn't mean it doesn't exist just that I have never tasted it in 60 odd years.

        1. re: jfood

          Could it be the cheese and not the veal that you’re adverse to? Sometimes the cheese, especially sheep milk based for me, like romano, leaves a strong aftertaste similar to the gamey aftertaste.

          1. re: jfood

            reply to whs and michele cindy,

            there are different raising pocesses associated with all foods, veal is no different. the veal you sometimes receive in a resto is different from the milk-fed veal you may buy in the store. what jfood has noticed is that the mild taste that he loves in veal at home is rarely found in the veal he orders in a resto. And wrt cheese, milanese is cheeseless, so that could not be the culprit.

            thanks for the input.

              1. re: Passadumkeg

                OK...it was very vealey...better. :-))

            1. The original comment has been removed
              1. I personally do not really enjoy too much of the gamey taste. For example, I just pan fried some lamb chops with some garlic. I have to eat it right when it's piping hot or else it's not worth it. It still has a distinctive lamb flavor but with just a tiny hint of the taste of traditional game meat. It's a very strong flavor, and if you leave cooked lamb sitting out, then after about 15-20 minutes, the gaminess starts to get too heavy for my liking.

                1. I used to hunt. And it was interesting how venison from different years would taste different depending on the diet the deer ate. Deer who feed on corn, who live near someone's farm taste different from deer who just eat in the woods. I like the flavors of various more exotic meats.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: scuzzo

                    And isn't the surprise of the flavor part of the fun? I agree about the "exotic" flavors which I, righty or wrongly, read as more on the gamey side.

                    I personally perfer the northern deer that feed on poplar twigs, over the southernmore deer that graze in cornfields. We've got a young spike buck this year, and it will interesting to see how different it tastes versus the does we've had in years past. Still, they are northern-forage animals, so it should taste like the forest.

                    Curious, which do you like me when you say exotic - the woods-foragers or the corn-foragers?

                    1. re: cayjohan

                      Does? I thought only bucks were fair game. Maybe that has changed with the current population of deer, or perhaps it's where I live.

                      1. re: jayt90

                        Yep, does are fair game in our area, no special license. Huge deer population. I generally prefer the doe meat - second year is best -, as some of the older bucks can be even more gamey than I like! If you eschew a big trophy set of antlers, you can often get better meat.

                        1. re: cayjohan

                          The flavor issue with older bucks is a general tendency of uncastrated mature male mammals to have strongly flavored meat. Vienna Beef hot dogs made in Chicago contain a fair fraction of bull meat, which accounts for a good bit of their distinctive flavor. Bulls for slaughter were quoted as baloney bulls, reflecting the fact that the meat was used only in heavily spiced sausages.

                          Illinois hunting rules favor killing antlerless deer, but then much of the state has too many deer. The old rules allowing killing only bucks came because one buck can mate with multiple does so a substantial fraction of bucks can be killed with very little impact on deer population.

                          1. re: cayjohan

                            Same with elk. A cow elk usually has a milder flavor than a bull.

                            1. re: nvcook

                              Ditto moose. Guys going after big racks look for bulls, people filling their freezers go for the cows. There used to be a cow permit required in Alaska each season -don't know how it is now.

                          2. re: jayt90

                            Doe are most certainly hunted. I know in the PNW there's a chunk of season specifically for doe, you have to have a license, but then I'm pretty sure you have to have a license period.

                      2. Yes, I am picky about my lamb, but I love it cooked a certain way and I love how the meat is so tender and has a distinct flavor. I do use the term gamy in a negative connotation in that, lets say, if the meat is cooked at too high a temperature, it may taste overly strong and slightly off-putting to me, not necessarily to others. I think how someone judges whether something tastes gamy to them is totally subjective.
                        I personally don't use the term gamy in a positive sense. This does not, however, mean I dislike the defined, strong taste of a particular meat.
                        I guess it's just all to how you define gaminess. When I enjoy the strong and distinct flavors, I would describe it as exactly that; flavourful, wild, bold, pungent.. etc. But when I use the term gamy, it just means that the level of flavor is not to my preference.
                        I don't know if I really make sense here.