About a thousand years ago, some French farmers where going about their normal autumn barnyard chores, wool berets pulled low against the chilly Mistral wind. Being Frenchmen, they passed the time by affably debating current events. Shaking their heads and muttering curses, they predicted dire consequences and economic doom from the recent demise of the feudal system; they crossed themselves and appealed to heaven for the confirmation of the first ever French pope, Sylvester II; and then nearly came to blows over whether William the Conqueror (called William the Bastard by one), would prove victorious over the hated English at the upcoming Battle of Hastings (he won, by the way). All this whilst never pausing in their labor, the slaughtering and processing of farm animals to provide meat for the winter table.
During a prolonged discussion on whether the local Dordogne caves near Lascaux were haunted or not, by chance the farmers noticed a difference between the carcasses of a barnyard goose and the wild goose they had hunted and shot earlier. The barn fowl had that morning once again pecked a hole into the grain silo and had gorged himself on corn. Driven by instinct to fatten up for an autumn migration that for him would never be, the silly goose was deemed incoercible by the farmers. The result was his current condition as an honored (and delicious) addition to the dinner table.
"SACRE BLEU!", one farmer exclaimed, pointing at the dissected birds. Laying side by side, the liver of the gluttonous domestic bird was grossly enlarged and fatty compared to its wild cousin. The two farmers looked at each other and smiled. And thus the foie gras industry was born.
Today around 20,000 tons of foie gras (translated literally from French as "fatty liver" and pronounced 'fwah grah') are produced annually worldwide. The French are responsible for 70% of all the production but selfishly eat 85% of it, leaving little for the rest of us. Further research shows that the average Frenchman eats foie gras at least 10 times a year. I ate it that many times last week while visiting the Périgord region – ground zero for foie gras and other frenchy-french fun.
Foie gras – what exactly is it?
Some people are disturbed to the point of boycott and protest when they learn that geese and ducks destined for foie gras are force fed by inserting a tube down their throats. But in fact this fattening by “gavage" (as defined by French law) during the bird’s last 2 weeks of growth is by all accounts not nearly as harmful as it’s eventual slaughter (usually by electrocution). If you eat beef, pork, fish or fowl, you have to be aware and OK with your position on the food chain. Moi? I'm damn proud of it. Foie gras rightfully is one of the most popular delicacies in French cuisine. Its flavor is described as rich, buttery and delicate. I love it. In fact, it rates a spot on my All-time Greatest Food Hit Parade.
Artisan production of foie gras is hard work and involves long hours. The birds are early risers so every day starts at the quack of dawn. Buon appetito!