Foie Gras, France’s Favorite Holiday Delicacy

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Foie Gras Laguilhon

France takes its gastronomy extremely seriously, and this is especially true when it comes to the end-of-year holidays. Of all the holiday delicacies that might feature on the festive menus in French homes and restaurants, foie gras is a must. Despite the controversies surrounding it, there’s no denying that it is highly cherished by the French.

Geese at the Ferme Bastebieille

Most foie gras is produced using a method called gavage, the act of force-feeding ducks or geese with a fatty corn-based mixture that engorges their livers. The practice was first employed by ancient Egyptians around 2,800-2,500 B.C.E., as depicted in some examples of funerary art like the Tomb of Metjetji now at the Louvre. The method was likely brought to Europe by the Greeks around the 5th century B.C.E., who in turn passed the technique on to the Romans. The practice diminished with the decline of the Roman Empire, although the tradition was preserved by the Jews in Western and Central Europe, first as a means of creating a non-lard or dairy fat, which respected Judaic dietary law.

Foie Gras with toast. Photo takedahrs/Pixabay

In the 16th century the process reappeared in France, predominantly in the southwestern region of the Basque Country and eastern region of Alsace, accompanied by the rise of corn cultivation. The delicacy eventually reached the French court, and Louis XIV is said to have enjoyed foie gras prepared as pâté en croûte. At that time, foie gras was mainly produced from geese, but in modern times, 95% of its production has shifted to ducks. France remains the largest producer and consumer of foie gras, and many of these producers are still in the southwestern region, notably in the Périgord area of the Dordogne Valley, east of Bordeaux. Many of these are small, artisanal farms where the birds are well treated.

In recent years, some producers have been exploring more ethical solutions for producing foie gras. One of these is Eduardo Sousa, a Spanish producer who has come up with a method involving injecting newly born geese with a shot of serum containing naturally occurring bacteria that triggers fat storage and thus eliminates the need for force-feeding.

Foie gras comes in a variety of forms. The most popular are foie gras entier, made of cooked, half-cooked or fresh whole liver lobes; regular foie gras, made of various pieces of liver; bloc de foie gras, a fully-cooked moulded block; pâté de foie gras; or mousse de foie gras.

 

Foie Gras with Figs. Photo: Naotake Murayama/Flickr

Foie Gras comes in a variety of forms. The most popular are foie gras entier, made of either cooked, half-cooked or fresh whole liver lobes, regular foie gras, made of various pieces of liver, bloc de foie gras, a fully-cooked moulded block, pâté de foie gras or mousse de foie gras

Over the festive season, the delicacy usually appears on the menu of le Réveillon de Noël, Christmas Eve dinner. It’s often served as an hors d’oeuvre or appetizer and is commonly accompanied by slices of gingerbread-flavored bread or other toasted bread and a fig, onion, or red berry chutney. It could also be lightly poêlé, pan-fried or added to other elements of your holiday meal, like in the stuffing of turkey or other poultry. More inventive recipes to serve foie gras can also range from foie gras crème brulée to foie gras ice cream.

Foie Gras Photo: Sophie/Flickr

It is surprisingly easy to prepare at home, but if you would like to have authentic French foie gras, it’s usually available at gourmet food shops in North America. For online purchases, we can also recommend Laguilhon, three-generations of small, quality producers.

We explore French gastronomy on our various sensorial food and wine experiences. Learn more about them here or contact us to plan a special tour around French holiday traditions.

Bon appétit et bonnes fêtes! Wishing you a safe and delicious holiday season!

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