In the United States, foie gras has meant fattened duck livers produced within the country. Up until now, any French foie gras--which can be either goose or duck liver--brought into the U.S. had to be partly cooked, or "mi-cuit," and even that was banned for a while.
The change comes because France, Greece, Spain and Luxembourg have been declared free of exotic Newcastle disease, a poultry virus that prompted the U.S. Agriculture Department to establish strict regulations in 1974 after a major outbreak occurred in California a few years earlier. These countries can now export raw poultry products to the United States, as long as the processing procedures meet U.S. health standards, according to Michael David of the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
How will the new regulations affect the American market? D'Artagnan, a distributor of American foie gras and other gourmet items, jumped on the news. "We're one of the first ones to import the French foie gras, and the reactions of chefs and consumers have been positive," said Ariane Daguin, an owner of the Newark, N.J.-based company.
New York's Lespinasse restaurant served its first batch of French goose foie gras last Saturday, and another shipment is on the way. "The French foie gras is different than the American because of the way it's processed--it's smoother and has a corn flavor," said Christian Delouvrier, chef at Lespinasse. "I'll probably start using French for some recipes, American for others." He estimated that will break down to 75 percent French foie gras and 25 percent American foie gras.
D'Artagnan is bringing in both the higher-end goose liver and the less-expensive duck liver. With the latter, said Daguin, "Our goal is to hit the steak houses and smaller bistros that couldn't afford foie gras before." The current suggested retail price for raw American duck liver is $48.60 per pound, compared to $37.25 per pound for the French duck, she said.
This could mean stiff competition for domestic producers. But Guillermo Gonzalez, an owner of Sonoma Foie Gras, which produces the dark Muscovy duck variety, questions whether the quality of French foie gras will be commensurate with the large quantities being shipped in. "France has an overproduction [of foie gras] and found an outlet to dump their product, but I don't think the market deserves that," he commented. "Producing foie gras is not easy, and we'll have to see how restaurateurs react to the efforts U.S. producers have made."
If Americans start turning to French foie gras over the homegrown variety, the U.S. producers may have to adapt. Michael Ginor, president and co-owner of Hudson Valley Foie Gras in Ferndale, N.Y., said, "I'm for a free economy, and this will help us to reinvent ourselves, focus on prepared goods or less-expensive products--if that's what consumers want."
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