Savvy art collectors of ArtKabinett social network who enjoy eating foie gras may want to hold on making dinner reservations in California, because it is about to become the first state to ban the luxury liver dish made from ducks or geese.
The nation's first statewide foie gras ban kicks in on July 1, 2012.
Foie gras is one of the most popular delicacies in French cuisine and its flavor is described as rich, buttery, and delicate, unlike that of a regular duck or goose liver.
In the French language, the phrase means "fat liver" and refers to a goose or duck that has been fattened by a process called "gavage" -- introduction of nutritive material into the throat by means of a tube. [from French, from gaver, from Old French (dialect) "gave" throat]. Eventually the liver grows to more than 10 times its normal size.
The feed, usually corn boiled with fat (to facilitate ingestion), deposits large amounts of fat in the liver, thereby producing the buttery consistency sought by the gastronome.
Ducks and geese do not have a gag reflex (or a throat or stomach), since their expandable, pliable esophagus serves as a holding area for feed before digestion.
Although activists love to throw around the phrase “force-feeding, foie gras producers employ the term "managed feeding" to describe the bird's capacity to transform excess feed into storage fat in the liver and skin.
Foie gras production first began some 5,000 ago in Egypt, as tomb carvings from that period demonstrate.
After the fall of the Roman empire, goose liver temporarily vanished from European cuisine. Some claim that Gallic farmers preserved the foie gras tradition until the rest of Europe rediscovered it centuries later, but the medieval French peasant's food animals were mainly pig and sheep.
Others believe that the tradition was preserved by the Jews, who learned the method of enlarging a goose's liver during the Roman colonization of Judea or earlier from Egyptians.
The Jews carried this culinary knowledge as they migrated farther north and west to Europe.
The Judaic dietary law, Kashrut, forbade lard as a cooking medium, and butter, too, was proscribed as an alternative since Kashrut also prohibited mixing meat and dairy products.
Jewish cuisine used olive oil in the Mediterranean, and sesame oil in Babylonia, but neither cooking medium was easily available in Western and Central Europe, so poultry fat (known in Yiddish as schmaltz), which could be abundantly produced by overfeeding geese, was substituted in their stead.
Hans Wilhelm Kirchhof of Kassel wrote in 1562 that the Jews raise fat geese and particularly love their livers.
In 1570, Bartolomeo Scappi, chef de cuisine to Pope Pius V, published his cookbook Opera, wherein he describes that "the liver of [a] domestic goose raised by the Jews is of extreme size and weighs [between] two and three pounds."
In 1581, Marx Rumpolt of Mainz, chef to several German nobles, published the massive cookbook Ein Neu Kochbuch, describing that the Jews of Bohemia produced livers weighing more than three pounds; he lists recipes for it—including one for goose liver mousse.
In 1680, János Keszei, chef to the court of Michael Apafi, the prince of Transylvania, included foie gras recipes in his cookbook.
Today, France is by far the largest producer and consumer of foie gras, though it is produced and consumed worldwide, particularly in other European nations, the United States, and China.
With California’s foie gras soon to take effect July 1, the food fight between animal rights activists and those battling to repeal the law is ruffling more than a few feathers.
California chefs – in the run up to the ban on force-fed fattened duck livers -- have been holding special foie gras -focused events as a last hurrah. This has reportedly enraged the foie gras objectors who have recently been out in force, staging protests at restaurants like Mélisse in Santa Monica.
In 2004 California Senate Bill No.1520 was passed that forbids foie gras, saying that “gravage,” or force-feeding ducks to enlarge their livers, was cruel and inhumane.
The law also prevents the sale of products resulting from force-fed ducks like duck meat, pet food and clothes. Included in the law was a seven-and-a-half year grace period--now coming to an end.
In the past, efforts to prohibit foie gras have been quashed in 12 other states. Chicago initially outlawed foie gras city-wide in 2006, but reversed itself less than two years later.
Foie gras could still be sold in gourmet stores, and unlike the California law, didn't prohibit the sale of other products from fattened ducks like duck confit, magret (breast), tongues and feet.
In France, foie gras exists in different, legally defined presentations, from the expensive to the cheap:
foie gras entier (whole foie gras), made of one or two whole liver lobes; cuit (either cooked), mi-cuit (semi-cooked), or frais (fresh);
foie gras, made of pieces of livers reassembled together;
bloc de foie gras, a fully cooked, molded block composed of 98% or more foie gras; if termed avec morceaux ("with pieces"), it must contain at least 50% foie gras pieces for goose, and 30% for duck.
Additionally, there exist pâté de foie gras; mousse de foie gras (both must contain 50% or more foie gras); parfait de foie gras (must contain 75% or more foie gras); and other preparations (no legal obligation established).
In US, raw foie gras is classified as Grade A, B or C, with Grade A typically being the highest in fat. It is especially suited for low-temperature preparations, because the veins are relatively fewer and the resulting terrine will fit the aesthetic requirement of lacking obvious included blood.
Grade B is accepted for high-temperature preparation, because the higher proportion of protein gives the liver more structure after being seared.
Grade C livers are generally reserved for making sauces as well as other preparations where the high proportion of blood-filled veins will not impair the appearance of the dish.
Foie gras is surprisingly low in bad fats and high in good fats.
Many studies conducted by well-known and respected authorities have proven foie gras is as healthful as any other meat, although moderation is the key.
We know that France consumes the largest portion of the world's foie gras production; yet, there are fewer cardio-vascular diseases in France than in the USA, and the life expectancy is slightly higher in France.
A meal with foie gras offers an excellent source of Vitamin A (retinol) and iron. Both of these nutrients are important for eyesight, growth, appetite, taste, skin tone, and blood cell production. Individuals on carbohydrate restricted diets also appreciate this food.
Here are the approximate values per 100 grams (3.53 ounces) of foie gras:
Serving Size 2 oz (56g)
Calories From Fat 220
% Daily Value
Total Fat 24g 37%
Saturated Fat 7g 33%
Cholesterol 210mg 70%
Sodium 410mg 17%
Total Carbohydrate 2g 1%
Dietary Fiber less than 1g 2%
Vitamin A 530%
Vitamin C **
** Contains less than 2 percent of the Daily Value of these nutrients.