Foie gras: a taste of something special
Gascony’s foie gras season has begun. From mid-November to March, our small area will hum with activity as ducks and geese make their way to village markets for sale, or to large exporters for processing. Most mornings after school drop-off, I take a coffee and croissant in Maubourguet, our next-door village. Cafe du Centre sits at the main intersection, a small crossroads, quaintly picturesque.
Here I watch the village come to life, bicycles and pedestrians jostling with large transporters ferrying delivery after delivery of duck and geese to the processors. Each truckload brushes under the plane trees that flank the roads, and autumn leaves whoosh like a wave in their wake.
Foie gras is the liver of a goose or duck specifically fattened by force-feeding. It’s a controversial subject, and I step gingerly between fan and decrier. It is served everywhere here; it’s part of the landscape and I accept that. Last week, when I sampled fresh foie gras, sliced, pan-fried in butter, glazed in Armagnac and served atop an apple and fig tart, I thought it unreservedly delicious.
The locals are pleased the season has begun — and they don’t care what the rest of the world thinks about foie gras production. Earlier this year, an outbreak of bird flu sent fears of closure throughout the industry, so production starting back is good news. Some may say nay, but in a country where the industry supports 30,000 families and employs 100,000 people, it’s important not only from a culinary and historical viewpoint, but economically as well.
In the next-door department, the Gers, 4.5 million ducks and 120,000 geese are farmed for their foie (liver). In total, France will produce 19,000 tonnes from 38 million ducks and they will eat 75 per cent of that themselves. Tradition is all-important here. At one time, spring goslings were raised over summer; come winter and the maize harvest, the farmer would choose which geese to take from the flock to be fattened.
Others are culled to be sold for dinner on St Martin’s Day, November 11, the day that signals that it is time to stop farming and prepare for the bitter winter ahead. Ducks have largely replaced geese. Connoisseurs maintain that goose foie gras has a finer flavour.
Duck foie gras, which is easier to produce and available all year round, has a more rustic character and it now accounts for 90 per cent of all foie gras production. In 2000, duck foie gras produced in Gers, was awarded an IGP (Indication Geographique Protegee) status specific to this department, and in 2006 was recognised as part of the cultural and gastronomic heritage of France by the National Council for Culinary Arts.
I love that food in France is so highly regarded there is a council for the promotion of culinary heritage and the education of taste! Only confit du foie gras (preserved foie gras) is sold in New Zealand under one of these descriptors: entier (whole), bloc (pieces), mousse (pureed), pate (mixed with pork or duck), mi-cuit (semi-cooked and pasteurised to be as close to the original flavour and texture as is possible) and cuit (well cooked in its own fat). It’s not cheap and its taste is special, so enjoy it simply prepared.
In my village, confit du foie gras would be simply served sliced on bread. Ignoring tradition, use it as filling for ravioli, with fresh figs baked in filo parcels, in sliders with fig or quince paste, extravagantly mixed with quality pork mince and made into sausage rolls using butter puff pastry, or as I have here, atop a pizza.
I used buffalo mozzarella which, once sliced, I left to rest in a sieve while preparing the dough to expel excess liquid. Get the recipe