Monday, March 16, 2009

Foie Gras: Intriguing Information

Do you enjoy foie gras? Are you opposed to it, thinking it is cruel? Or do you fall somewhere in the middle, mabe unsure about the issue? Whatever your position, there are matters about foie gras that you may not know and which you might find interesting.

I hope to provide some enlightment here, to point out some fascinating items about foie gras, including some things I did not know. Please note that these items all come from The Foie Gras Wars by Mark Caro, a book I reviewed and recommended yesterday. I'll note the page numbers for the items I present.

"Foie gras" is French and is translated as "fat liver." But, "foie" has its roots in ancient Latin and refers to "figs." Marcus Gavius Apicius, a famous Roman gourmet and perhaps the original author of a cookbook called Apicius, created a method to stuff geese with dried figs to enlarge their livers. These livers became known as iecur ficatum, "iecur" meaning "animal liver" and "ficatum" referring to the "figs." Ficatum then became the root for "liver" in the words foie (French), higado (Spanish) and fegato (Italian). (p.25)Bold

If you dine on a dish of seared foie gras, it most likely came from a male Mulard duck. Though geese once were most commonly used, there was an eventual move towards ducks as they are easier and faster to raise than geese. The cross-bred Mulard became the most popular duck because it was heartier and less tempermental than other duck breeds. As an example of their popularity, France in 2007 raised approximately 35 million Mulards as opposed to only about 800,000 geese. (p.33). Male ducks are usually used as female ducks have more veins in their livers and they also tend to be more tempermental. (p.89)

There are two different processes for extracting the liver from a duck or goose, referred to as either hot or cold evisceration. In France and Canada, they commonly use hot evisceration. In this process, they hang the duck, stun it, kill it, pluck it, and then cut it open and take out the liver. As the liver is at body temperature, it is still hot and slippery and thus does not take a shape. Being so pliable, it is often placed into molds. The old French style, as well as that used in Israel, is cold evisceration. In this process, they hang the duck, stun it, kill it, pluck it, and then put it in a refrigerator over night. When the liver is removed the next day, it has its characteristic shape. It will then be sold in lobes, later to be sliced and seared. (p.98)

Each of these processes imparts specific chemical properties to the liver, causing them to react differently to various cooking methods. The hot style is preferrable for slow cooking methods such as for a terrine. Searing this style would render far too much fat, which is undesirable. The cold style though retains its fat much better when it is seared. (p.98) Foie gras comes in three different quality levels, marked as A, B & C, where A is the highest quality. (p.97)

It probably comes as no surprise that France accounts for about 80% of all foie gras production, and 90% of its consumption. (p.230) At numerous farms in France, you can even enjoy a special Foie Gras Weekend where you will slaughter your own duck and then make foie gras, which you can take home with you. (p.248) How many of you would sign up for such a weekend? Yes, I would do this if I had the opportunity.

What might surprise you is that at the end of twentieth century, Israel was one of world's top exporters of foie gras. (p.32) Unfortunately, in 2003, the Supreme Court in Israel banned foie gras production. They applied anticruelty laws to force feeding and concluded foie gras production should be banned. (p.33)

Three are about three foie gras producers in the United States. One of the most famous is Hudson Valley Foie Gras, though it actually is not located in the Hudson Valley. It is located about 70 miles southwest in Sullivan County at the base of the Catskill Mountains in New York. (p.47)

Ever hear of a quackeasy? When Chicago banned foie gras, underground places that served the illegal foie were referred to as quackeasies, akin to the speakeasies during Prohibition. (p.202)

Tomorrow, I'll touch on matters related to the foie gras controversy, hoping to spur on some debate.


Jacqueline Church said...

I am a foie fanatic and love that I am learning new things from your series Richard! I think the issue of foie and animal cruelty was a cheap shot by the PETA folks - if they were truly concerned about animal cruelty they'd take on big beef or pork CAFO farms. But those are represented by powerful lobbies. Poor little foie farms were not (are now) and were only three. Plus, a small number of higher SES consumers support foie. Low hanging fruit for PETA!

adele said...

I knew about the etymology of foie (this is what a French major is good for), but that's the first time I've heard of a quackeasy. Brilliant.

I'm with Jacqueline on this one. It's like the uproar about lobsters at Whole Foods - cheap outrage.

Richard A. said...

Thank you ladies for your comments, and both of you are spot on. Foie gras is too easy of a target, and if the protesters truly care about animals, they should be tackling the much more serious issues.

McKaz said...

Um, excuse me. It IS a serious issue. ANY cruelty to any animal is a serious issue, whether it's only one instance or numbers in the thousands. Animals are not things but live beings. To say something like "if protesters truly care" is such an absurdity. Take a look at PETA or other animal rights sites, they DO tackle other (whether considered more serious or not) issues every day. I think the cheap outrage is found in these first three blog responses.

testadizuccone said...

I stopped eating foie gras a few years ago after seeing the geese being force-fed in the Dordogne. Likewise, I've pretty much stopped eating veal (except for Azuluna, when it's available) after riding my bike past veal farms in VT year after year and seeing those tiny cows tied so tightly to oversized dog-houses. I am no animal rights fanatic -- I wear leather, and even allow hunters on my property -- but seeing animals subjected to unnecessary cruelty during the courses of their lives just makes me lose my appetite for these things.

testadizuccone said...

And just to add: I would never comment on or even silently judge what other people choose to eat, in my presence or not. I only talk about my reasons for not eating certain things if I'm asked outright. I love food and enjoy seeing other people enjoying what they're eating, even if it's something I don't myself eat.