Then he says: “If this is not a foie gras, I would not know what is.” “And if it is not”, he adds for the certainty, “then it is a very good imitation.”
It looks like foie gras, it tastes like foie gras, how could it not be foie gras? De Beer can be reassured: we do not let him down. The stuff he tastes contains exactly the same ingredients as foie gras: fat and liver. Only it was not made by force feeding geese; this is produced by a machine. This makes it the first truly animal-friendly foie gras to come onto the market.
Geese (and ducks) are stuffed with maize porridge with a pipe through their throats. As a result, their livers swell up to six to ten times the normal size to produce a goose liver that melts on the tongue.
The production of foie gras is banned in almost all European countries. Fatty liver may only be made in Belgium, Hungary, Bulgaria, Spain and France, of course, which accounts for four-fifths of world production. Attempts to reach a European ban have always met with resistance from Paris, which has labeled foie gras as a culinary heritage.
In recent years, more ‘animal friendly’ foie gras has been offered. That amounted to a little less animal abuse. Without force feeding, geese do not produce livers that are fat enough to be called foie gras.
But now there is an alternative on the market that satisfys both gourmets and animal lovers. The bringer of the good news is Joeri Groot, owner of a company that trades in poultry meat. Groot himself has seen how geese were stuffed in France. “That’s not a nice sight,” he says.
That must be possible, he thought. About six years ago he started experimenting with ordinary (ie non-fatty) livers. That was not a success. Until he came into contact with the German Institute for Food Technology (DIL) in Quakenbrück.
Together with meat technologist Nino Terjung, nicknamed the ‘mad meat scientist’, Groot developed a process whereby goose fat is pressed under extreme high pressure in regular livers. This process is called pascalization and is used in the food industry as a preservation method. Because of this high pressure the liver and the fat melt together, as it were, Groot explains. As a result, the end product on a microscopic level is identical to ‘real’ foie gras.
The Groot company, GMT, markets it as ‘foie royale’, because the name foie gras is protected. It was launched last October in London by British chef Jack Blumenthal, son of the famous Heston.
In the Netherlands restaurant Bolenius in Amsterdam is the first customer. Chef Luc Kusters recently served as a garnish with ‘lièvre à la royale’: hare in a sauce of its own blood and organs. Up to now no one has commented on it, says Kusters.
Why would they too. ‘If you put this next to the goose liver of a French three-star shop, you can really taste the difference. But I am convinced that it is better than what comes as foie gras in most Dutch restaurants. ‘
Chefs generally have little scruples when it comes to animal-friendly food. However, more and more of them are savoiding foie gras. “You only get sick of it,” says De Beer.
Jan de Wit from Le Restaurant in Amsterdam (1 Michelin star) still serves foie gras, in a terrine with sugar bread, but there are guests who ask him: ‘Why do you still have that on the menu ?, they say.’
We also let De Wit taste a piece of foie royal. He finds the structure different from that of the original: “It is a bit firmer and fatter and lacks the subtlety of foie gras.” But it has been a success recently. ‘Put a drop of old balsamic vinegar with apple and I would dare to dare.’
At Wakker Dier, which successfully campaigned to get foie gras off the shelf of supermarkets, they are already enthusiastic without testing. ‘If this solves the problem of forced feeding, we are completely in favour’, says spokesman Anne Hilhorst. As far as animal welfare is concerned, foie royale scores highly anyway: the livers come from free-range animals.
For the general public foie royale this Christmas is unfortunately too late, according to Groot. The production is still limited and only available for star chefs in Germany, England and the Netherlands. But there is a factory under construction that will run next year from March. “Then we want to roll it out in Europe and perhaps worldwide.” Ultimately, it should also be available in the supermarket.
Chef De Beer can hardly wait for it. He already sees it for himself: brioche with apple and eel and curls foie royal: “That seems perfect.” that’s what we need to talk about.