Foie gras history
If you’ve ever enjoyed foie gras you will never forget its rich, buttery and delicate taste. Nothing to compare with.
Foie gras, “Fuagra”, is a luxury food and well-known delicacy in French cuisine. French law considers foie gras cultural and gastronomical heritage of France. No wonder that France is the world’s largest foie gras producer, though it is consumed in other European countries, the United States, Canada and China.
Foie gras is made of the goose or duck liver. It sounds simple, but nothing is ordinary there, starting from the breed.
Traditionally, foie gras was produced from special breeds of geese.
Today, ducks accounted for 95% of foie gras production, and the breeds primarily used are the Muscovy duck and Moulard duck (it’s a sterile hybrid that cannot reproduce and therefore sometimes referred to as a “mule” duck). The ducklings are selected by sex: the males are to grow because they put on more weight than females, and the females to kill (and then later used in cat food and fertilizers). Ducks are force-fed with corn using special feeding tubes twice a day for 12.5 days (the method is called gavage), enlarging the liver to 10 times its usual volume. Ducks are typically slaughtered at 100 days.
The tradition goes back to 2500 BC, when the ancient Egyptians deliberately fattened the birds through forced overfeeding: a bas relief scene in the necropolis of Saqqara is a silent prove.
A bas relief depiction of overfeeding geese
Then this practice spread from Egypt to the Mediterranean, then to Greece. However, it was not until the Roman period that foie gras is mentioned as luxury cuisine. Pliny the Elder (1st century AD) wrote that a famous Roman gastronome fed dried figs to geese to enlarge their livers and “when they are fat enough, they are drenched with wine mixed with honey, and immediately killed.
Legend says that the foie gras technique has survived because it was preserved by the Jews, who learned the method during the Roman colonization of Judea or even earlier from Egyptians. The Jews carried this culinary tradition as they migrated farther north and west to Europe.
The Judaic dietary law prohibits mixing meat and dairy products (butter, for instance) and forbids lard for cooking. 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. The local Jewish could buy the fattened goose liver in a ghetto of their cities.
Appreciation of the foie gras delicate taste spread to gastronomes far beyond the Jewish community. From the late XVI century the foie gras recipes started appear in the cookbooks of famous chefs: Bartolomeo Scappi, chef de cuisine to Pope Pius V; Marx Rumpolt, chef to several German nobles; János Keszei, chef to the court of the prince of Transylvania; and others.
Today, lots of restaurants worldwide offer foie gras. So, if you are not a vegan or animal rights fighter, trying foie gras has to be included in your bucket list.