Foie gras is French for ‘”fat liver”. It is a specialty food product made of the liver of a duck or goose.
Foie gras is especially a popular and well-known delicacy in French cuisine. The flavor is rich, buttery, and delicate, unlike that of an ordinary duck or goose liver. Cooks use it for mousses, parfaits, or pâté s.
We will focus the organic, not force-fed version of foie gras here (in French: ‘sans gavage’).
They also combine it with other food item, such as steak. French law states that this fine food product belongs to the protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of France. Unfortunately, French law defines foie gras as the liver of a duck or goose fattened by force-feeding corn with a feeding tube . The French call this process ‘gavage’.
Spain and other countries occasionally produce using natural feeding. Farmers force-feed ducks twice a day for 12.5 days and geese three times a day for around 17 days. They typically slaughter ducks at 100 days and geese at 112 days.
Gavage or the controversial technique of force-feeding
The technique of gavage dates as far back as 2500 BC. The ancient Egyptians began keeping birds for food and deliberately fattened the birds through force-feeding. Today, France is by far the largest producer and consumer of foie gras. Also other European nations, the United States, and China produce the delicacy.
Gavage-based production is controversial, due mainly to the animal welfare concerns about force-feeding, intensive housing and husbandry. And enlarging the liver to 10 times its usual volume. A number of countries and jurisdictions have laws against force-feeding, and the production, import or sale of the product; even where it is legal, a number of retailers decline to stock it.
More radical approaches have been studied. A duck or goose with a ventromedian hypothalamic (VMH) lesion will tend not to feel satiated after eating, and will therefore eat more than a non-lesioned animal. By producing such lesions surgically, it is possible to increase the bird’s food consumption. The bird can then will eat ad libitum, by a factor of more than two.
Most of the world’s foies gras come from geese that are fed corn kernels crushed according to the “force-feeding” system, massively stimulating the growth of the liver by artificial means.
Commercial not force-fed foie gras
More and more countries are banning foie gras due to animal welfare. So producers are looking at alternative methods. They produce fattened liver without gavage. The French call this “fatty goose liver” or since French law protects the name ‘foie gras’.
Outside France people can call thus still foie gras, though. Even if it does not conform to the French legal definition. This method involves timing the slaughter to coincide with the winter migration. The livers are then naturally at their fattest.
The winner of the Coup de Coeur award at the Salon International d’Alimentation, SIAL 2006, Patería de Sousa produces fattened livers without force-feeding. This has only recently been produced commercially, and is a very small fraction of the market. See the insert below.
Producers outside France do not always force-feed birds to produce fattened livers considered to be foie gras, instead allowing them to eat freely, termed ad libitum.
Interest in alternative production methods has grown recently due to ethical concerns in gavage-based production. Such livers are alternatively termed fatty goose liver, ethical or humane foie gras. The British supermarket chain Waitrose also provides a version of ethical variant which it calls (and has been trademarked) faux gras. It actually comes from Jersey.
Ethical foie gras
Producers also use the term ethical or humane foie gras for gavage-based production, that, however, is more concerned with the animal’s welfare (using rubber hoses rather than steel pipes for feeding).
Others have expressed skepticism at these claims of humane treatment, as earlier attempts to produce fattened livers without gavage have not produced satisfactory results.
Producers have experimented with more humane versions in the Spanish region of Extremadura, whereby they trick the bird tricked into preparing for migration rather than force-feed them.
Bargain fruit, wild seeds, herbs and most importantly, acorns – the same acorns, rich in oleic acid, which help reduce cholesterol, and also form the diet of the famous Iberian pigs of Extremadura. The production, obtained from the European Greylag Goose “Anser anser”, is entirely seasonal and natural.
it takes a whole year to produce a small, evenly coloured, regular and finely textured foie gras. Its superbly delicate flavour and golden colour (which comes mainly from the yellow seeds of wild lupine) are a direct consequence of the birds’ natural diet and high quality of life, allowing them to fly and graze at will.
The geese of Sousa & Labourdette, meanwhile, feast on the wild food they find all around them in the unspoilt natural landscapes of Extremadura.
The worldwide gastronomic community has discovered the outstanding quality of Sousa & Labourdette’s foie gras.
Sousa & Labourdette is one of few producing a high quality product without force-feeding (‘sans gavage’) geese or ducks.
The natural foie gras can be obtained only once a year, during the winter season.
Sousa & Labourdette follows the French method of canning using a process with water vapour, presenting the product in a hermetically sealed glass jar.
Cooked foie gras is the most traditional way of preparing this delicacy. Fully cooked, it is preserved in its own fat and sterilized. This type will be stored in a dark and cool place for a long period of time. Just like wine, foie gras, well preserved, ages gracefully.
Just like choosing the cooking recipe that best preserves the original flavour and consistency of the foie gras, it is recommended that you do the same when tasting it. Before serving, it is advisable to place it in the refrigerator at least a few hours in advance.
The foie gras should be cold, but not iced. 15 minutes before serving, remove it from the refrigerator and cut it immediately into slices. To cut it use a smooth knife and run it under hot water before using it. it is best when served as a starter, when the palate is still neutral.
Place the pieces of foie gras on toasted triangles, on crispy country bread or even better, on a toasted brioche and enjoy the foie gras by letting it melt in your mouth. Otherwise, you can beautifully combine it with a few slices of caramelized apple, with oriental chutney or with a wine confit (also called wine jelly).
For wine pairings, the luxurious buttered quality of foie gras calls for a fine wine from an old vintage. White, Red or Champagne, it is not recommended to taste foie gras with a young or too light wine. Even if Sauternes remains the classic accompaniment, we recommend that you taste it with the wine you enjoy most.
Currently, one of the few producers in the world of patented and certified goose- and duck livers without force-feeding but up to the same standards as the traditional foie gras is the German company ‘Foie Royale’.
The products of Foie Royale are being used by several Michelin star chefs throughout the world. They developed a process together with the German Institute of Food Technologies (DIL) to get the same result as the traditional product, but without the force-feeding.
A pound of foie gras can cost as much as $90 (www.insider.com)
It is both an expensive and a controversial delicacy, however, this particular product is made by Spanish farmer Eduardo Sousa is produced without gavage, or force-feeding. The geese feast on a fig and acorn diet which results in natural weight gain but also considerably lengthens the production process. A 125g (4.4oz) jar of Labourdette comes with a £116 ($148) price tag.