Liver Alone

I love foie gras so much that I decided to tattoo it on my chest today.  Well, it’s a rub-on tattoo anyway, but I still think I look tough.  That’s really not the point of the tattoo though.  Today I took a tour of Hudson Valley’s duck farm, provided by D’Artagnan.  Their goal is to educate chefs, cooks, and anyone within the industry on how these ducks are cared for (such as sanitization, living quarters, feeding methods and slaughter).  As most of you know, foie gras (meaning fat liver in french) has been under fire the past few years.  Some states have gone so far as to make the selling of foie gras illegal!  There is so much misinformation out there on this subject that laws are passed before everyone has taken the time to fully understand the process.  So today was a day to educate the masses.  And though I didn’t need convincing that foie gras is a great product, it was informative to see how these farms operate from the beginning to end stages.

After a two hour bus ride up to the Hudson Valley, we were welcomed by a band and a barbeque!  I had figured I was only getting a talking to today.  Free foie gras?  Yes please!  The table was covered with terrines of liver, pates, salads, duck hot dogs and foie gras filled prunes appropriately named kisses.  I wanted to fill my  mouth with these gems!.  My stomach was later filled with grilled foie gras and a few more interesting items.  I hovered around the grill along with the others to see which other duck parts were being served up.  When I could finally break my way through the crowd, I grabbed a skewer of each: hearts, livers, duck meat and fat, and testicles.  To be honest, I’ve eaten many a crazy thing in my life, but somehow I’ve bypassed testicles.  All they needed was a quick warming on the grill and a sprinkle of salt.  I put one of these little guys in my mouth and it quickly turned pudding-esque.  I ate all four.  It was a treat to be in such gorgeous surroundings–a white washed farmhouse, surrounded by trees in oranges and reds, old timey music, and copious amounts of duck product.

After we all had a mini feast, we were taken on the tour of the farm.  Our first stop was obviously the bebe chicks.  Rooms were filled with hundreds of fluff balls, all running around in gaggles, tripping over each other.  We passed through rooms of more mature ducks, and finally got to the rooms where they were force fed.  I know the term sounds a bit abusive, but the actual act is relatively harmless.  We were explained that the inside of the ducks throat can be likened to the soles of our feet.  And ducks have no gag reflex.  So all the worry and alarm over ducks choking or suffocating is “hogwash”, according to the on-site veterinarian.  Though the tube is inserted down the duck’s throat, the actual sensation they experience would be like us rubbing our hands on a tube.  The ducks didn’t seem to be afraid of the process either.  By the time they reach maturity, they are accustomed to humans and therefor this process is nothing more than ritual for them.

All in all, today was pretty interesting.  I’ve wanted to see this farm for years.  I think it’s important, especially if you’re a cook or chef, to know where your food is coming from, and how it is produced.  Especially if there is so much controversy surrounding it!  I guess I better get out my list and start planning on visiting the cow farm, pig farm…etc.

So aside from all the liver talk, let’s talk about liver!  My last word on this topic will be chantilly foie gras.  This past weekend I ate at a ‘friends and family’ dinner.  It was my first one and very exciting for me.  I had originally wanted to work at this restaurant almost a year ago when I first heard of its inception, but timing just didn’t work out.  Turns out half of my friends ended up working there, so at least it will be a fun place to go and have dinner.  Corton should be opening very soon, but my friend Lara and I had the opportunity to get a little sneak peak of what the food will be.  It is beautiful, graceful food with thoughtful accents.  The foie gras comes into play on a kampachi appetizer.  The fish was so fresh and light, and the dollops of foie gras chantilly provided the fat liason to this dish.  All of his dishes were lovely, seasoned well, seasonal, and most importantly creative!  I don’t want to go into loads of detail because I think everyone should be sure to check out Paul Liebrandt’s new restaurant.  And you may as well dabble in the foie while you’re there.

Though foie gras is likely to cause contention among a few of us, one thing is for certain: it’s one of the greatest products that can be used in the kitchen, has existed for thousands of years, and should continue to adorn plates whenever possible.  That’s my opinion.  Yours?

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6 responses to “Liver Alone

  1. OMG. I want some. Right. Now.

  2. I agree that foie gras is an amazingly tasty product but just like fur that is an incredibly warm and soft, the rewards of the product do not outweigh the cruelty the animal suffers. Even if the duck feels little pain when the food is forced into their throat, the swelling of the liver up to ten times its normal size is painful. And what about the confinement the animal experiences? Foie gras should go the way of other ancient practices that do not take into consideration the sacrifice being made for a moment of pleasure.

  3. Thoughtful and informative and oh-so hunger inducing. I love the PETA shirt!

  4. Maybe I wasn’t as clear as I’d hoped to be about the conditions these ducks are raised in. The ducks are kept in huge rooms with space to wander, and it’s incredibly clean and protected. It’s been proven that ducks in the wild are more stressed because of the need for survival than ducks raised in these situations. They are not in cramped environments…and the condition of the liver expanding is actually normal. It’s just regulated in the farm. I was so surprised at the conditions and think that if anyone thinks it’s inhumane should take this tour to see it for themselves 🙂

  5. Glad to hear that these ducks do get to wander. But my understanding is that this less the rule and more the exceptional case. In fact, I believe that the conditions of this farm are the result of concerns over the traditional raising of ducks for foie gras and the inhumane treatment of the animals.
    The liver expansion of the duck is a natural occurrence when the duck is storing up for winter and the production of foie gras exploits this trait. Still, the producers take this natural characteristic and push it way beyond what nature intended.
    I will definitely check out a local (MA) duck farm and see for myself. This has got me thinking.
    I do love that you went to see it for yourself and I can’t wait to read about more of your down on the farm adventures.

  6. Good to see that Jen has an open mind regarding seeing for herself rather than assuming that a lot of “Palin-esque”propaganda against Foie Gras is automatically truth.
    The truth is that anyone drinking milk (contributes to veal production…), consuming chicken(most have beaks snipped at birth so they dont peck each other to death in over crowded condition), farm raised fish (penned in and fed bone meal from cows ..think mad cow=mad fish…and other farm animals and made to swim in areas of high fecal matter due to over crowding in shallow water.) or hamburger (cows that contribute to this product are at the lowest quality.. see cheap meat.. and therefore are in poor health when slaughtered and the meat is usually tainted to some degree with bacteria from less than clean and well keeped processing plants) from ANY fast food is contributing to the horrific existance of abused, physically manipulated, tortured animals.
    I would love to check out some local farms with you.
    Anyone remotely aware of high quality food product is also aware that for the most part (not 100%) that an animal that will fetch the highest price for its parts must be treated much better than average. If a Duck that produces Foie Gras is mistreated and mishandled the liver it renders will not be top quality and fetch the desired price tag that an “A” grade liver will. Yes there are plenty of examples to the contrary in other animal production but I am incenced by people who target a revered cottage industry because it is vulnerable by virtue of size rather than taking on the big boys of industrial food production whose lobby is truly a worthy adversary of those who would love to liberate animals from harm.
    Tell us how you really feel…
    Anyway, I am sorry that I did not get to go to the farm. Next time.

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