Foie Gras and the Perigord
The Perigord in southwestern France is an unbelievably beautiful place. Everywhere you turn you get a picture perfect postcard view of this magnificent area. This week our accommodations are located in long valley with the Vézère River (a tributary of the Dordogne) running through it. The area is very green with hardwood trees of all sorts including one for which it is most well known — the walnut tree. There are meadows with freshly cut hay and sprouting corn fields everywhere. (Corn, by the way, is only grown for animal feed. The French think it is appalling that people would eat it.) We have a wonderful view of a 300-foot tall vertical cliff of limestone layers more than a half mile long that dominates the landscape opposite our gîte. Over eons of time, the weather has undercut the softer sections of these layers creating shelves/overhangs that have been inhabited for more than 50,000 years. Small medieval villages hug the curves of the valley. It is quiet, peaceful and beautiful.
On our way here from the Bordeaux region, we stopped in at Périgueux a fairly large city at the western beginning of this region. While it is a large city, it has a small town town feeling. While we were there, we had the opportunity to shop at the farmer’s market that only happens twice a week. We had a great time looking at all of the fresh produce available and other products like fresh breads and cheeses, olives, etc. We wound up buying most of our groceries for the week there. One of the vendors we came across was selling foie gras. For the uninitiated, that is duck or goose liver. Having had foie gras in Toulouse, I decided to buy a jar of this local delicacy.
I am a pretty adventurous person when it comes to food. I have had many things that I thought I would never be able to eat and that were perfectly acceptable to the culture that produced or invented it. From raw sea cucumbers to snails, I have been able to appreciate and honor another culture’s culinary perspective. I feel privileged to have been able to do that. Foie gras has a taste that is difficult to describe. The closest that I can come to a description has to border on poetry. It is simply heavenly. Buttery rich, with a unique indescribably delicious flavor.
Foie gras is produced by feeding corn to ducks or geese two or three times a day. A funnel is inserted into the gullet of the bird and the corn is funneled into it. This causes the liver to fatten 7-8 times its normal size. Normally, ducks and goose fatten up before the winter in order to store enough fat to insulate them from colder temperatures and to give them a source of energy when food supplies are leaner. According to the French farmers who have goose and duck farms for the production of foie gras, the birds are not harmed by this method of feeding them because their throats are tough and they do not have a gage reflex. They live until they are at least six months old versus two months for chickens that are fattened with artificial hormones in the United States in order to speed up production. Also, the geese and ducks on these farms are free to roam the large enclosures where they are kept and are relatively stress free unlike the commercial chicken farms in the U.S. where the chickens are extremely tightly caged, highly stressed, and processed mechanically so rapidly that the chicken is usually contaminated when it is packaged making it necessary to take extra care when handling it to avoid potentially harmful (and possibly fatal) bacteria.
Foie gras is by far the most delicious food I have ever tasted. Nothing I can think of compares to it. It is vey rich since it is comprised mostly of fat but not in the way one might think of fat from steak, pork, or chicken. In contrast, foie gras has a creamy, buttery texture, light brown or tan in color. It can be eaten simply on a small cracker or piece of fresh baked bread. For dinner, I baked quail that were stuffed with a mixture of mushrooms, finely diced carrots, parsnip, shallots, and foie gras. A sauce of shallots, orange juice, ruby port wine, and cherry preserves thickened with a little butter accompanied the quail which were surrounded by small quartered parsnips. We had this with a local Merlot and it was (if I do say so myself) absolutely delectable. A typical jar of foie gras contains about a quarter pound and already, we have eaten about half of it. I really didn’t expect to go through it this quickly, but I can see that we will probably have to buy another jar before we leave the Perigord.