Con­tro­ver­sial del­i­cacy

Foie gras re­mains a favourite de­spite crit­i­cism of the force­feed­ing method used to pro­duce it.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - TASTE - By MEG JONES > TURN TO PAGE 21

IT’S a Satur­day morn­ing in this me­dieval French city in the heart of the Dor­dogne re­gion – mar­ket day – and mer­chants have stacked ta­bles in Sar­lat’s cob­ble­stoned square with pricey del­i­ca­cies.

Pun­gent dark truf­fles. Wicker bas­kets filled with freshly-picked mush­rooms. Black wal­nuts sus­pended in jars of honey like in­sects in am­ber. Wheels of aro­matic cheeses as big and thick as au­to­mo­bile tires.

But it’s the shiny cans ar­ranged in pyra­mids that draw many of the gro­cery buy­ers and gas­tronomes. In­side the unas­sum­ing con­tain­ers adorned with la­bels show­ing pic­tures of ducks and geese are fat­tened liv­ers.

Ah, foie gras – ex­pen­sive, con­tro­ver­sial, de­li­cious.

This area in south-western France is the heart of foie gras coun­try.

Foie gras means “fat liver” in French. It also means a siz­able chunk of the French agri­cul­tural econ­omy. Foie gras is big busi­ness in France, which pro­duces around 20,000 tonnes of pro­cessed goose and duck liver each year: three­quar­ters of the world’s foie gras, val­ued at more than a bil­lion dol­lars.

Among the nu­mer­ous foie gras sell­ers at a re­cent Satur­day mar­ket was Jean-Hugues Gau­tier, who used a tiny knife to dis­pense duck and goose foie gras on small round pieces of toast to tourists and foie gras first-timers. A small 120g can of duck foie gras cost around US$14 (RM45) at Gau­tier’s Foie Gras Le Dom ’Oie stand. Duck foie gras has a more pun­gent taste, like wild game, com­pared with goose.

Why do peo­ple buy it? Aside from the un­par­al­leled taste, Gau­tier says, “It’s unique, like Cham­pagne or caviar,” as he makes change for a cou­ple buy­ing two large cans of duck foie gras.

Be­fore foie gras ends up at mar­kets and on plates at fine restau­rants, it be­gins at farms in south­west­ern France where large signs on the sides of wind­ing roads fea­ture draw­ings of geese and ducks.

At De­nis and Nathalie Mazet’s El­e­vage du Bouys­sou foie gras farm near Sar­lat, hun­dreds of grey geese and ducks graze in pas­tures for sev­eral months be­fore be­ing force fed. The Mazets get their Toulouse geese chicks when they’re a day old.

They reach full size at four months liv­ing in the pas­tures on the Mazet farm, eat­ing corn and drink­ing wa­ter.

“Here they eat all day long – a lit­tle bit,” says Nathalie Mazet, stand­ing in one of the pas­tures filled with geese. “Then we feed three times a day – a lot.”

A nor­mal goose liver weighs 85g to 113g. Geese grown for foie gras are force fed three times a day us­ing a tube, called a gav­age, and when they’re slaugh­tered and pro­cessed for food, the liv­ers weigh al­most 1kg. Force feed­ing is done the last 15 to 18 days of a goose’s life and 12 to 14 days for a duck.

De­nis Mazet, whose fam­ily has farmed foie gras for gen­er­a­tions, sits on a small bench in­side a pen next to a large con­tainer filled with whole corn. He pulls each goose un­der his left arm and tilts its neck back and with his right hand he quickly and smoothly pushes the feed­ing tube down each bird’s throat. It takes six to eight sec­onds to feed each goose.

With­out force feed­ing, geese would not eat as much corn and their liv­ers would not grow as large, ex­plains Nathalie. The Mazets raise and process 1,000 geese and 500 ducks each year at their farm, sell­ing ev­ery­thing ex­cept the feet, head and in­testines. Feath­ers are sold to a pil­low man­u­fac­turer.

An­i­mal rights groups have protested foie gras farms, say­ing the prac­tice of force feed­ing is cruel and inhumane. While foie gras farm­ers con­tend it does not hurt the ducks to be force fed, crit­ics counter by say­ing it causes liver dam­age and is

Ex­pen­sive, di­vi­sive, de­li­cious: Jean-Hugues Gau­tier (right, back to cam­era) pro­vides sam­ples of duck and goose foie gras to shop­pers at the Satur­day open air mar­ket in Sar­lat, lo­cated in the heart of the French foie gras coun­try. — mct

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