FOIE GRAS SOON TO BE OUTLAWED FOR SALE IN CALIFORNIA
On July 1st, 2012 selling foie gras becomes outlawed in the state of California and chefs face a $1,000 per plate fine if they put it on the menu. The city of Chicago passed such a ban which was in effect from 2006 to 2008 when it was removed. The dysfunctional California Legislature which has spent most of the last decade in a state of paralysis unable to deal with the important issues of the day somehow found time in 2004 to pass regulations to make it illegal to purchase the silken, creamy textured liver of the moulard duck. Having moved from monitoring our bedrooms, they have now forced their way into our kitchens!
Gourmets and foodies were taken by surprise when in 2004 California Health & Safety Codes 25980-25984 were passed which made the sale of foie gras illegal in the state of California and provided for a fine of up to $1,000 per violation. The ban was given an eight year delay of implementation to allow producers to change their business practices or leave it altogether. During this period many farmers around the country have modified how they raise and feed ducks to show that Foie Gras production can be done ethically and humanely, but the ruling is on the books and will be enforced this summer. It is forcing out of business a well known Northern California poultry farmer come this July, and after that you’ll have to travel out of state to order foie gras in a restaurant. The Golden Gate Restaurant Association is working with chefs and producers to try to reverse the new rules and hopefully they can duplicate the results in Chicago.
THE HISTORY OF FOIE GRAS
Foie Gras is a delicacy with a long history of being enjoyed throughout Europe for centuries and pictures of geese being force fed go back to 2500 B.C. in Egypt and later by the Greeks and Romans. Nutritionally starved Europeans prized the livers of chicken, ducks and geese for their iron stores and minerals.
Ducks and geese are migratory birds and annually gorge themselves to build up body fat prior to their long migratory flights. Their livers are adapted to store the extra fat that is used for energy. Poultry farmers take advantage of this behavior and force feed the birds a corn enriched diet by gavage for several weeks to fatten their livers prior to slaughter. A liver can easily triple its size and change from a bitter, iron tasting meat to one of ethereal richness.
Geese have the biggest livers and were the bird of choice for thousands of years. The livers were usually cooked in a confit manner for long term preservation or slowly poached and baked to be served as a cold terrine. For those whose only experience with prepared liver is liverwurst, the difference is like comparing a Yugo to a Rolls Royce. Fifty years ago the duck farmers in the Southwest of France discovered that the moulard duck, a cross between a Pekin and a Muscovy, not only produced a large, two pound magret, breast, for roasting, but also a large liver that could rival those of geese for food preparation.
Ducks and geese normally fatten up prior to taking their annual migratory flights and the practice of gavage, inserting a plastic cone into their mouth to feed them an extra rich diet, takes advantage of this biological urge to consume extra calories. The lining of a duck’s throat is not like the soft tissues found in ours. In order to gorge itself with large quantities of food over a quick period of time, the duck’s throat has adapted to eating barbed insects, small stones and hard plant matter by keratinizing its inner lining; thus it has more in common with fingernails than with soft cheek mucosa.
FOIE GRAS AND WINES TO MATCH WITH IT
For those who have never eaten it, foie gras is a heavenly delicacy that combines a creamy rich taste with a silken buttery texture. The bitter taste we associate with fried chicken livers is removed by carefully cutting out the bile ducts and large veins filled with blood from the bottom of the liver. It is prepared in two major ways. The first is poached for several hours at a very low, 105 degrees after having “cured” in Sauternes or Cognac overnight and then chilled and served as a terrine. One of its most famous presentations in Alsace is stuffed with a large black truffle in the center. This is fantastic served with Tokay d’Alsace, Pinot Gris of varying degrees of concentration and sweetness. The other commonly prepared way to serve foie gras is sliced and sautéed at very high heat with no more than a 90-120 second searing on either side. Much of the fat is rendered out in this cooking method leaving a medium rare, juicy, lushly rich, buttery morsel complemented by the caramelization process of browning the surface yielding a delicacy that dissolves on the tongue. Great chefs complement the richness of the duck liver with a sauce that is both sweet and acidic such as a reduction of port wine, huckleberries, mangoes or papayas to name a few successful examples.
Each region of Europe that serves foie gras has what it thinks is the perfect wine to accompany this rich appetizer. In Alsace the preferred wine is Pinot Gris, often called Tokay, and best if it is a late harvest wine like a Vendange Tardive or Selection de Grains Nobles, the former being a wine made from grapes that have hung on the vine for a long time and have partly dehydrated and shrunken so as to concentrate their sweetness and acidity. Selection de Grains Nobles wines are made from pressing, plump raisin like grapes hanging on the vine which are frequently “infected” with the botrytis spore which produces even more complex flavors and adds tropical richness to the wine.
In western France the favored accompaniment is a Sauternes or Barsac, again, a white wine made from very sweet grapes, hanging long on the vines and reaching a sugar concentration that can exceed 15% in the bottle and approach a light syrup in richness and viscosity. In Germany late harvested Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eisweins and Trockenbeerenauslese are favored. Each of these is also a very sweet wine; sometimes grapes are allowed to hang on the vine until Christmas, if weather conditions allow.
A GREAT FOIE GRAS DINNER MATCHED WITH GREAT WINES
Recently a fund raising dinner was held at the highly rated restaurant, Michael’s on Naples, in Long Beach, California featuring a comprehensive tasting of Foie Gras used in each course of a deliciously prepared, five course meal to which the attendees decided to bring different vintages of Bordeaux’s most famous Sauternes, Chateau d’Yquem. Chateau d’Yquem is the world’s most famous Sauternes estate. It was owned by the family of Alexandre lur Saluces for a very long time and produces a wine of stunning purity and richness featuring a kaleidoscopic array of rich fruity flavors of fresh stone fruit, zesty citrus, caramel and honey. Similar dinners are being held in San Francisco and Los Angeles as the approach of a Prohibition Era in food descends on California restaurants and ties the hands of its famous chefs making dinners like these, for the time being, a thing of the past in restaurants in California.
MICHAEL’S ON NAPLES
Proprietor: Michael Dene Executive Chef: David Coleman Manager: Massimo Aronne
Foie Gras Dinner
Wednesday March 14, 2012
Bollinger R.D., 1985
Salt cured foie gras with duck prosciutto, kumquat jam, faro and chicories
Tokay(Pinot Gris) Clos Saint Urbain Rangen De Thann
Selection de Grains Nobles, 1989 and 1991 Zind-Humbrecht
Foie gras and rhubarb tortellini in Liberty Farm duck tongue broth with
Micro celery and beech brown mushroom
Corton-Charlemagne 2004 Bouchard Pere et fils, en magnum
Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes 1990 Burguet
Ciabatta encrusted foie gras, Jidori chicken and Kurobuta pork sausage
With Great Northern beans and asparagus mostarda
Chateau d’Yquem 1999 Chateau d’Yquem 2001
Monkfish roulade stuffed with foie gras, pickled beet puree and lemon confit
Chateau d’Yquem 1970 Chateau d’Yquem 1971, en magnum
Seared foie “steak” with cipollini onions and fava beans
Chateau d’Yquem 1983 Chateau d’Yquem 1988 Chateau d’Yquem 1996
WINE AND FOOD NOTES
Bollinger R.D. 1985. Hints of toasted wheat on the nose with fresh brioche scent, excellent balance and acidity, quite fruity with long finish. All three bottles have consistent notes and show impeccable provenance for a vintage that can be forward and soft at 27 years of age — Outstanding. 
Zind-Humbrecht Tokay (Pinot Gris) Selection de Grains Nobles 1989 and 1991. — Foie gras in Alsace is usually served cold in a terrine and paired with Tokay. We selected concentrated wines made from plump raisiny grapes having highly concentrated residual sugar and clean acidity to match with this cold, terrine-like foie gras presentation. Both wines shared the concentrated essence of dried fruits so characteristic of these late harvested wines which seem closer to Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese than botrytis affected Sauternes and Barsac. The 1991 had the flavors and nose of dried apricots, peach and Seville oranges packed on a medium bodied frame. Botrytis was not very apparent. In many vintages of German and Alsatian wines, the humidity remains low during the harvest season and botrytis does not appear. This does not prevent the grapes from shrinking and concentrating on the vine, but it does rob them of the magic that the botrytis fungus imparts. In contrast the 1989 was a year with strong botrytis infection which took this bottle featuring plump white raisins, dried apricots and peach with caramel and marmalade essence to a whole other level. It was a huge wine with great body and mouth filling flavors whose finish went on and on. Dinner attendees were divided on which wine they liked best. We graded the 1991 — Outstandingand the 1989 – Extraordinary. 
Bouchard Corton-Charlemagne 2004 magnum. The light broth with tortellini was felt to be a delicate course that might be best paired with a medium weight white Burgundy. A red was also opened to use as a reference point throughout the meal for those who tired of sweet flavored wines. The Bouchard had elements of pear and quince on the nose, with slightly oaky, medium full bodied intensity with hints of straw and featuring good Corton-Charlemagne acidity. This wine showed no suggestion of premature oxidation like many others from this traditionally styled vintage and hopefully has a good life ahead in bottle – Outstanding. 
Burguet Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes 1990. This is a good, clean bottle of village Gevrey Chambertin with the added moniker of being from old vines. There are violets on the nose with persisting berry fruit flavors, a bit of old fashioned forest quality and ultimately drying a bit on the finish. Probably not a wine you would want to invest in at this point. – Recommended. 
Chateau d’Yquem 1999 and 2001. The youngest wines which tended to be least evolved, and in the case of the ’99, a bit lighter and simpler due to a lower level of botrytis were served first and were an excellent match with a savory small sausage that was essentially a foie forcemeat. The foie gras element added richness and sweetness to a product that might otherwise have been a little dry. The ’99 had a fresh flavor with elements of peach and apricot, subtle botrytis and a noticeably lower acid level than other vintages. The ’01 full and fruity with a striking white peach nose and flavor complemented with the dried apricot essence characteristic of these wines. This is a huge and backward wine that is worth seeking out and cellaring for a long time. 1999 –Outstanding  and the 2001-Extraordinary .
Chateau d’Yquem 1970 and 1971 magnum. The monkfish roulade which accompanied these wines was the most sophisticated course. As served, the fish was in a flat filet form and perhaps had been rolled around foie gras as it baked. It was sitting in a foamy, lightly flavored, sweet beet puree into which the foie gras had melted, enriching the sauce, and leaving just a hint of its initial form on the surface. Coupled with an accent of lemon confit, it was the perfect foie gras fish course and perfectly matched with two bottles of well-aged, 40 year old Yquem. Those who have the good fortune to cellar Yquem or buy well stored bottles on the auction market favor the wine with quite a bit of age. The wines are bright, fruity and appealing in their youth, start to mellow and gain complexity in middle age and then go through an ever evolving life of increasing candied and caramel enriched metamorphosis. The ’70 was moderately full bodied with light, dried peach flavors and a lovely finish. The ’71 was lush with stone fruit accents in the nose, more noticeable botrytis and sporting a long, flavor filled finish. 1970 and 1971 – Outstanding. 
Chateau d’Yquem 1983, 1988 and 1996. These three wines were a perfect match for a seared foie gras “steak” with cipollini onion reduction. The ’83 is a wine with lovely white peach fruity nose, quite forward with rich full, botrytis enhanced honeyed elements , crème brûlée that is now integrating all its interesting flavor components into a rich wine with a long finish. The ’88 was a terrific, backward wine of concentrated fruit featuring orange citrus elements, dried apricots and peaches and tropical flavors that keep coming with flavor after flavor coupled with great acid balance and an outstanding finish lasting minutes and minutes. 1996 is also a wine of serious intensity and complex dried fruit and crème brûlée flavors that with this bottle showed a slight disintegration and separation of the flavor components rather than melding for a greater impact in the finish. 1983 and 1988 – Extraordinary , 1996 — Oustanding Plus .
Late harvest wines are a perfect complement to rich courses, be they cheeses, sausages or foie gras. Chateau d’Yquem is the ultimate indulgence in this vein due to its now quite high price tag. Late harvest German and Alsatian wines of comparable intensity can be purchased for a fifth the price and many find them equally enjoyable without breaking the bank. This dinner tasting could not have been put together without the generosity of each participant who donated a bottle from his/her cellar to the event. Tasters were quite broad in their appreciation of the wines and almost every bottle had an individual for whom it was his/her favorite of the night. There was no single bottle around which there was uniform acknowledgement that it was the best bottle of the night.
Come July 1st, a fine of $1,000 will seriously add to the bill for anyone who wants to duplicate this experience. As the regulation now reads, one can still import foie gras from out of state, but one cannot sell it in California.
To learn more about Michael’s Restaurant click here  And, for those interested, Foie Gras, by Michael A. Ginor, co-owner of The Hudson Valley Foie Gras Company, is a major source of information on the history of foie gras as well as an excellent source of recipes for cooking duck and foie gras. If you wish to order Foie Gras it can be ordered from The Hudson Valley Foie Gras Company. To visit their websiteclick here .