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Foie gras without force-feeding: it can be done
I adore foie gras...
I willingly admit it, I adore foie gras: the texture, the taste, the festive aspect – I enjoy all of it. I really love eating it, preparing it and, most of all, sharing what I have made with my family over Christmas and New Year.
...but then I begin to have doubts
Of course, when I unwrap my raw foie gras to prepare it, I have no illusions. I know that in order to get this lovely foie gras, the duck or goose has been force fed (the process known as “gavage” in French) and that it is hardly ethical.
It is easy to say, but I do have a problem with this force-feeding, so I try to do everything I can to lessen its impact by buying only the best quality livers possible, of certified origin, the French “Label Rouge” (red label) in particular, and now we are starting to see the way animals have been reared stated on the label. I try, as far as possible, to avoid the industrial-style battery farms in which such dreadful scenes have been photographed by hidden cameras.
I am just salving my conscience, you might say and, of course, you would be right, making out that it is cruel but inevitable.
I already knew that, left to their own devices, geese will gorge themselves at the start of winter, eating more than usual to build up their reserves. This is the process accentuated by gavage, a process that dates back to the Ancient Egyptians, who learned it from the Hebrews.
Eduardo and his geese
That is as far as I had got until I heard recently (thanks, Alison) about Eduardo Sousa.
Eduardo is a Spanish farmer who rears geese in Estremadura, Spain. His geese live in semi-liberty and eat what the farm produces or has growing naturally: acorns, olives, grain, seeds, etc.
On his farm, he produces a natural foie gras from these geese, without force-feeding, relying simply on their propensity to eat more as winter approaches. At this time, the geese are given as much as they want to eat.
So, the idea is incredibly simple: before the winter cold arrives, just feed the geese as much food as they want and they will stuff themselves quite happily (I’m not sure that “stuff” is quite the appropriate term here, but still…). The liver swells and, after slaughter, this can be made into foie gras.
Of course, this method doesn’t produce the huge livers of conventional gavage; they are smaller (200-250g as opposed to 400g on average), but have a better flavour, apparently. As the geese are not eating maize, their livers are – or, rather, were – greyish. This did not affect the flavour, but was less appealing to the eye. To compensate, Eduardo planted yellow lupins and, after eating these, his geese now produce livers with the sought-after delicate yellow colour.
And that is not all that comes with Eduardo’s production method: to make foie gras, you need goose liver, salt and pepper, then you cook it, that is all – with no alcohol or spices added.
So what does this method do for the flavour? Impossible for me to say, as I have not (yet?) tasted it, but when you know that in 2006, Eduardo won the much-coveted “Coup de Coeur” (favourite) prize at the Salon International de l’Alimentation, Paris (Global Food Marketplace), making it de facto the best foie gras in the world, that tells you something.
Note that French producers were particularly peeved, trying to argue that this wasn’t “proper” foie gras because of the weight.
Dan Barber, an American chef, who has given a TED talk about Eduardo, talks about how incredible the taste is: he was aware of aromas and flavours that would be logical if this or that spice had been added, yet this is not the case. He tells of how he was ready to bet that it contained aniseed; he could taste this distinctly, but no.
Can I try some?
From what I have found online, it appears that this is almost impossible to get hold of. All of it is bought up, even well in advance, by the very, very rich (Emirs from the Gulf, the White house, etc.).
But there is hope: Eduardo has started working with a Frenchman, Diego Labourdette, to produce foie gras by the same method in the south-west of France. We will not be seeing it supermarkets yet, of course, but at least we will be able to order some…
A few links:
Eduardo’s own farm website: www.lapateria.eu
Website of the joint farm with Diego Labourdette: sousa-labourdette.com
Dan Barber’s TED talk: A Foie Gras Parable
Last modified on: December 15th 2014
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