Posted by: acooksca | 04/03/2009

The Shifting Foie Gras Industry

foie-gras-aI had the inkling that the Foie Gras (fatted duck or goose liver) industry in France has been changing. To answer some questions I would need to search out a lot of Foie Gras. My husband, Bruce, said he would participate by consuming enough so that when we left the country three weeks later he would be able protest “no more Foie Gras!”

Chilled or Hot?

It was 1984 when I started my affair with Foie Gras in France. At the Michelin 3-star restaurant of Alain Chapel we ordered both preparations that you would normally see on a menu: cold terrine style and hot flash-sautéed. The cold, because it is prepared ahead like a pate, is easier to make and will serve multiple portions. The hot version, known as an escalope chaud, is prepared to order. It is difficult to time, melts away within seconds of hitting a hot pan and requires a trained cook to accent it well. In a busy restaurant you might need a cook just to produce that one dish all night.

Much to my dismay the hot variety seems to be fast disappearing from restaurant menus. Even worse, fewer and fewer restaurants make their own chilled Foie but buy a factory produced terrine or torchon. The best Foie Gras we had on this trip was a 2-inch thick slab. Well seasoned and flash fried, it had a seared exterior and quivering semi-melted interior. The escalope chaud was served with warm crisp-poached Asian pear apple and a light ginger syrup. It was as elegant a dish as you will ever taste.

Duck or Goose?

In Strasbourg, one of the capitals of Foie Gras production in France, we ventured into the boutique of producer Georges Bruck. Monsieur Bruck is the fifth generation to head his family firm and his is the last independent company producing Foie Gras in Strasbourg. Most production in Europe is now agri-business and the demand is immense.

From a refrigerated case we could select between the two sources of foie gras. The brochure subtitled Georges Bruck, Createur de Foies Gras, stated that until recently gourmets preferred goose Foie Gras for its more delicate, charming taste. However, it went on to assure us, duck Foie Gras now holds equal appeal. We purchased a thick slice of each and a bottle of Trimbach late harvest Gewurztraminer to sample them with.

Sure enough, the goose Foie had a gentler flavor, more elegant. The duck had a more definite liver flavor and was slightly less creamy in texture. The duck foie gras stood up better to the powerful gewurtztraminer. This change of preference to a more assertive flavor seem to echo the modern palate. We often prefer impact over charm and Bruce and I had to admit we preferred the duck Foie Gras to the goose.

Supermarche or Boutique?

The words “Foie Gras” are as abused and over used as the word “Fresh” is here. Supermarkets, convenience stores and rest stops along the autoroute sell cans of Block of Foie Gras. Blocks are the bottom of the product ladder and are made by whipping Foie scraps together with emulsifiers. They are a faint shadow of 100% Foie Gras and just make me yearn for the real thing.

Then there are specialty food shops and Traiteurs which offer ready made food such as terrines and stuffed pastries advertising Foie Gras. These utilize a blend of small Foie Gras pieces and other ingredients (like chicken livers or ground meats). Fun…but the Foie is just a tantalizing accent and often I can’t taste it in there at all.

What we wanted was a slice of pure Foie Gras to have with a loaf of fine bread and a carefully chosen bottle of wine for our afternoon snack. Fortunately there is a way to get a top quality Foie-snack without stepping into a restaurant.

Most Foie Gras producers have a boutique in a city close to their facility. We have found beautifully appointed shops in Paris, Alsace and all over the Southwest. These shops offer whole raw Foie Gras livers as well as different chilled cooked options, either plain or with flavorings such as truffles. These are 100% Foie Gras and conveniently vacuum packed. Small packages of about 4 ounce slices are perfect for the travelers’ picnic.

Boutique or Restaurant?

How good are the boutique slices? Happy as we where to have this delicacy available in convenient form we both mentioned finally that it just wasn’t the best Foie Gras could be. The texture had lost some of its creaminess and the flavors had faded. I know from preparing chilled Foie Gras that the balance of unctuously rich creaminess and elegantly subtle liver flavor declines rapidly. A day after it is cooked and chilled, even if it is well wrapped, it has lost much of its appeal.

The best chilled Foie Gras ends up to still be in the best restaurants. No real surprise, just no short cuts. Every casual café offers a dish accented with Foie Gras that is factory produced and less appealing than what the boutiques sell. But better restaurants cook their own daily, seasoning them with spices, brandy or wine and magic. Here we found the taste and texture to swoon over. Worth the calories, worth the price tag, worth the wait.

New World or Old World?

Several times a year I order a raw Foie Gras for home cooking. I use part of it chilled, part for flash fried and any crumbly pieces for a sauce on pasta. I have cooked the American and Canadian Foies. For my palette these have a less rich texture and lack the distinctive taste of the European Foies Gras.

It probably has something to do with the laws here against force feeding. New World Foie Gras must be derived by means other than those used in Europe. One grower told me they give the birds a food they just can’t stop eating. Whether that is true or not the result is not as satisfying as the “force feed” process in Europe.

I have been on Foie Gras farms in France and helped with the feeding. No force is needed and there appears to be no discomfort to the bird. They are stroked, talked to and allowed to roam free-range. Perhaps this is a more personal, gentler path to creating Foie Gras that produces a superior product.

American, Canadian and European Foie Gras in raw lobes or processed can be ordered through D’Artagnan. https://www.dartagnan.com/index.asp

 

Originally published in Farmstead Cheese News by Karen Bolla, edited for A Cook’s California (A Cook’s CA)  by Karen Bolla.

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Responses

  1. Have you watched Dan Barber’s “foie-gras parable” on TED? It’s great- the geese love their farmer Eduardo Sousa and seem to WANT to become foie gras.
    See my blogsite for connections to TED and the story. It’s great.
    Just watched it yesterday.
    http:escapelot.wordpress.com

    • Barbara: Yes, I have seen that TED episode. It helps explain why we should search out high integrity food producers everywhere. Growers who feel a strong connection to earth and animals deserve support. Eduardo Sousa is worth traveling to Europe to visit… maybe some day. Karen


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