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Baylen Linnekin’s masterful article “Overturn California’s Foie Gras Ban”

I’m posting this extremely well-written article about all the flaws in the “so called California foie gras ban”, with the author, Baylen Linnekin’s permission.  Baylen J. Linnekin, a lawyer, is executive director of Keep Food Legal, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit that advocates in favor of food freedom—the right to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, share, cook, eat, and drink the foods of our own choosing.

I’ve spoken with Mr. Linnekin, and have a great deal of respect for him and his work with Keep Food Legal.

Overturn California’s Foie Gras Ban

Foie gras producers and sellers fight back against an unconstitutional state law.

 July 7, 2012

This past Sunday saw the beginning of statewide “enforcement” of California’s “foie gras ban.” I put the word “enforcement” in quotes because—just as advocates like me had predicted—the law is so vague and was so poorly written that it would be impossible to enforce.

That fact became more and more evident as Sunday loomed, with those who might have been expected to enforce the law appearing united in their disinterest in doing anything of the sort.

As for the term “foie gras ban,” this law—signed in 2004 by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and enacted in 2005 with a built-in seven-year delay before the law would take effect—is and has always been a patently silly misnomer.

Why? Perhaps most obviously, the law does not “ban” or even once mention “foie gras.” Look for yourself at the “Bird Feeding Law” (the official name of the “foie gras ban”).

But that is just one of many incredible holes in the law.

It does not ban gavage (the French term for forcefeeding a bird) but instead states that a “person may not force feed a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird’s liver beyond normal size” or sell a product that “is the result of force feeding a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird’s liver beyond normal size.”

Not only does the law leave entirely undefined the term “normal size,” it requires that California officials and every seller or re-seller of foie gras in the state (like grocers or restaurateurs) know at all times the “purpose” of every feeding that took place during a bird’s life. And it leaves open the question of whether it would be permissible to forcefeed a bird for the purpose of producing fatty duck breasts, duck fat, duck feathers, and other products of forcefed birds.

The law defines “agricultural practices” subject to enforcement as “raising and selling force fed birds.” But the law then goes on to require that producers engaging in such agricultural practices not alter theseagricultural practices but instead “modify their business practices”—a term that the law leaves undefined. It would be difficult to find a producer (or indeed any business) that had not changed in even the slightest fashion its business practices over the past seven years (when the law went on the books)—hence theoretically bringing all foie gras producers (and hence all foie gras) into technical compliance with the law.

These and other fatal defects in the particulars of the law raise larger constitutional questions. Among these issues are due process rights, California’s power (or lack thereof) to regulate interstate and foreign trade under the Commerce Clause, the Supremacy Clause, and federal preemption.

In my capacity as executive director of Keep Food Legal, I’ve met and spoken with, advised, and prodded many of the key producers, sellers, restaurateurs, interest groups, and others over the past year to ensure that a lawsuit challenging the ban would occur.

So I took it as welcome if unsurprising news when, this past Monday—just one day after the law took effect—three plaintiffs sued the state of California, seeking to overturn the law with what appears to be a vigorous challenge. The lead plaintiff, the Association of Duck and Bird Breeders of Quebec, a Canadian nonprofit that represents producers located in the French-speaking province, is joined in the suit by co-plaintiffs Hudson Valley Foie Gras, a New York producer (the largest in this country), and Hot’s Kitchen, a Los Angeles restaurant.

“I trust that the federal courts will recognize that, in its attempt to tell a farmer in New York or Canada how much he may feed his ducks, the California ban has gone too far,” the Los Angeles-based attorney for the plaintiffs, Michael Tenenbaum, wrote in an email to me earlier this week.

One issue the complaint does not raise, but that I would hope will be raised here and elsewhere (as the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund did in a Wisconsin raw-milk case last year) is the issue of food freedom. Simply put, people have a right to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, share, cook, eat, and drink the food of their own choosing. Foie gras is raw milk is soda is Happy Meals. The issue is the same, even if the name of the food is not. And neither California nor any other city or state—nor the federal government, for that matter—has the constitutional authority to traipse over an individual’s right to make his or her own food choices.

Others agree.

“This is definitely a food freedom issue that needs to be litigated,” said Jeff Dermer, a California lawyer who is familiar with the Bird Feeding Law but who is not representing any of the parties, in an email to me after news broke of the lawsuit. (Dermer was featured in a Reason.tv video on food trucks earlier this year.)

Five years ago this very week I wrote an article about the sheer inanity of Chicago’s foie gras ban, the first ban to take effect in this country. It was around that time that Chef Didier Durand of Cyrano’s in Chicago (who currently serves as Keep Food Legal’s board chairman) coined the term “duck-easy” to describe the underground meals served in his and other restaurants in the city to protest and fight back against the law.

With California chefs launching their own underground foie gras dinners and otherwise providing foie gras to paying customers even after the law took effect, it would have been easy to let the state’s ban stand in the face of little or no enforcement. As the popularity of such dinners has shown, there’s something exciting about dining on such forbidden fruits.

But there’s also something very obviously absurd about banning a food. It’s notable that both Gov. Schwarzenegger and then- Chicago Mayor Richard Daley used the same word—“silly”—to refer to the foie gras laws in their respective jurisdictions. (While Schwarzenegger was complicit in signing the bird feeding bill into law, Daley deserves credit for vocally opposing and supporting the successful repeal of his city’s foie gras ban.)

But the idea of banning the production and sale of foie gras is more than just silly. California’s lone foie gras producer Guillermo Gonzalez of Sonoma Artisan Foie Gras—a former Keep Food Legal board member—is no longer producing foie gras in California. His family business of more than two decades teeters on the edge.

That’s not silly. It’s an outrage.

Silly laws like the “foie gras ban” have real victims. Let’s hope this lawsuit forces California legislators and their counterparts around the country to learn that lesson.

Truffle Recipes: Baked Figs with Black Truffles and Prosciutto

These prosciutto wrapped honey mustard baked figs, set on top of fried goat cheese and Australian black truffles and drizzled with top quality aged balsamic vinegar makes a delicious appetizer.  Since Australian black truffles reach their peak maturity in mid July, the combination with fresh ripe black mission figs is perfect.  If you don’t have a premium quality aged balsamic vinegar such as Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, Reggio Emilia, Gold Label on hand, you can reduce 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar combined with about 1/4 cup sugar or honey.  Simmer the mixture until reduced to 1/8 cup.

Truffle Recipes: Baked Figs with Black Truffles


4 slices Proscuitto de Parma, cut in half lengthwise

8 ripe black mission figs, stems and tops removed

2 tablespoons whole grain mustard

1 1/2 tablespoons honey

4 ounces fresh goat cheese, log form

3/4 ounce fresh Australian Black Truffles, shaved in slices

sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, Reggio Emilia, Gold Label


In a small bowl, mix the mustard and honey.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Make a well in each fig, using a knife to cut away some flesh if needed.  Fill each fig with the mustard honey mixture.  Place the figs on a sheet pan covered with aluminum foil. Coat each fig with the honey mustard sauce.  Bake the figs for about 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven, until soft.

When the figs are almost cooked, cut the log of goat cheese into eight equally sized rounds.  Fry the goat cheese in a skillet over medium heat.  Brown on each side.

Meanwhile, wrap the prosciutto slices around the hot figs.

To serve, place the fried goat cheese on the plates and put a large truffle slice on each piece of goat cheese.  Put a prosciutto wrapped fig on each truffle slice.  Sprinkle the remaining truffle slices around the figs.  Drizzle generously with balsamic vinegar.



Truffle Recipes: Black Truffle Chilean Sea Bass with Potato Crisps and Black Truffle Butter Sauce

After receiving a batch of highly aromatic and perfectly ripe Australian black truffles, I created this delicious recipe for Black Truffle Chilean Sea Bass with Potato Crisps and Black Truffle Butter Sauce. I am astounded at the quality and flavor of Australian black truffles! The truffles I used were procured from a plantation in southwest Australia that produces top quality Perigord black truffles. Australian Perigord black truffles are the exact same species as the famous French Perigord black truffles. In fact, the trees for this plantation were purchased and inoculated in France. In a blind taste test, I’m sure I would not be able to tell the difference between the Australian black truffles and French black truffles.

I used Chilean sea bass for this recipe, but I believe halibut would work well too. The combination of a solid layer of sliced truffles on top of the fish and the black truffle butter sauce surrounding the dish, gives the truffles center stage on this dish. It’s not overpowering at all; just the perfect combination of mild flavored ingredients (white fish and potatoes) with the intense earthiness of ripe black truffles.

Truffle Recipes: Black Truffles with Chilean Sea Bass, Potato Crisps and Truffle Butter Sauce


four 6-8 oz filets Chilean Sea Bass

9 tablespoons butter

2 oz Perigord black truffles (preferably 3 truffles)

six small red potatoes, peeled and sliced uniformly thin

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

3 tablespoons chicken stock

fleur de sel


Slice the truffles evenly with a sharp knife or truffle shaver. The slices should not be sliced paper thin. Set aside 2/3 of the best slices. Chop the remaining 1/3 of the slices finely. Blend 6 tablespoons butter with the chopped truffles by hand or in a food processor. Refrigerate the truffle butter until hard (30 minutes to an hour).

Line up the potato slices on a baking sheet overlapping about half of each slice. Drizzle with olive oil and use a pastry brush to make sure all slices are lightly coated. Season with salt and pepper. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes, or until potatoes are slightly crisp.

Meanwhile, place one tablespoon butter in a skillet over medium heat. Cook the Chilean sea bass filets in the butter. Turn the filets over when golden brown. Line up the reserved black truffle slices on each piece of fish, covering the filets completely. Spread (dot) one half a tablespoon butter on top of the truffles (it’s best to use softened butter for this). Cover the skillet and continue cooking until the fish is done.

While the fish is cooking, heat chicken stock in a small saucepan. Add the cold truffle butter and immediately whisk until the butter is incorporated.

Preheat plates in the oven at 200 degrees. To serve, create two rows of potato crisps in the center of each plate. Place a truffle covered Chilean sea bass filet on each plate with the truffle slices going in the opposite direction of the potato slices. Pour the truffle butter sauce around the potatoes and fish on each plate. Season the truffle slices with fleur de sel.

Serves 4

Foie Gras Recipes: Foie Gras Stuffed Mushrooms

I’ve been making stuffed mushrooms as a party appetizer for years.  This recipe for Foie Gras Stuffed Mushrooms takes the old recipe to a new level.  The frozen foie gras cubes have just enough time to cook in the oven.  If black truffles were in season, I would have added an ounce of chopped black truffles for a real treat!  The truffles could be added with the bread crumbs so that they would be partially cooked before the mushrooms are cooked in the oven.

Foie Gras Recipes: Foie Gras Stuffed Mushrooms


24 medium sized cremini brown mushrooms

3 tablespoons foie gras fat (duck fat or olive oil can be used)

1 large onion, chopped

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon marash chili pepper

1/4 cup pine nuts

2/3 cup bread crumbs

12 ounces flash frozen foie gras, cut into 3/4 inch cubes, about 60 pieces total (still frozen)


Put the foie gras fat (duck fat or olive oil) in a skillet, heat to medium, and add the chopped onions.  Cook until golden brown and soft, about 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, wash the mushrooms and cut off only the very end of the stem.  Reserve the rest of the stem.  Using a melon baller, carve out the inside of the mushroom leaving a still-sturdy mushroom cap, ready to fill.   Chop the reserved mushroom stems and the mushroom flesh that was carved out of the mushroom caps.  When the onions are golden brown, add the chopped mushroom, salt, cumin, paprika, marash chili, and pepper.  Cook for about 2 minutes until the spices are fragrant.  Add the bread crumbs and pine nuts, mix, and cook for another 2 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the still frozen cubes of foie gras.  Mix well.

Put the mushroom caps on a sheet pan and fill with the stuffing, putting at least two cubes of foie gras in each mushroom cap.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10 – 12 minutes, or until the juices of the mushroom caps and the fat from the foie gras is just starting to collect in the sheet pan.  Serve immediately.

Foie Gras Recipes: Foie Gras Hamburger with Fennel Slaw

This foie gras recipe was inspired by Christian Delouvrier’s signature foie gras “hamburger”, a recipe that appears in Michael Ginor’s cook book “Foie Gras, A Passion”.  The “hamburger” consists of a thick slice of seared foie gras, served between a “bun” made of white peaches, first poached in a Sauternes syrup, then caramelized before serving.  The blueberries were also poached in the Sauternes syrup.  The fennel slaw, made of shaved fennel, shaved red onion, julienne dates, lemon juice, olive oil and a pinch of cayenne, seemed like a natural addition to the “hamburger”.

About 4 ounces of foie gras was the right amount to pair with the sweet white peaches, blueberries and the caramel sauce.  Use a whole lobe and cut into large, thick slices, or use two 2-oz portions of flash frozen foie gras.

Foie Gras Recipes: Foie Gras Hamburger with Fennel Date Slaw

Foie Gras Hamburger with Fennel Slaw


Foie gras Hamburger

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup dry white wine

4 cups Sauternes

4 ripe white peaches small to medium sized, cut in half, pit removed

2/3 cup blueberries

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons sugar

1 lb foie gras, cut into four large pieces or eight 2-oz slices of flash frozen foie gras

sea salt to taste

Fennel Slaw

2 bulbs fennel, shaved thin

1/3 cup red onion, shaved thin

10 medjool dates

juice from one lemon

2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil infused with lemon or orange

2 pinches cayenne

fleur de sel to taste


In a non-reactive saucepan, combine water and sugar and set over medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes to produce a simple syrup.  Add the wine and Sauternes and cook for about 30 minutes over medium-low heat.  When the mixture is syrupy with large bubbles rising to the surface, place the peaches cut side down in the syrup.  Poach the peaches in the syrup for about 2 – 3 minutes, or until the skin starts to shrink or starts to fall off the peaches.  Remove the peaches from the syrup and set aside.   Add the blueberries to the syrup and poach for about one minute.  Remove the blueberries and set aside.  Return the peach skins t the syrup.  Continue simmering the syrup until it is thick.  To test if the syrup is done, place a few drops on a cold plate.  If the syrup does not run, it is done.  Remove the peach skins and set the syrup aside, keeping it warm.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.  In an skillet, heat the butter and sugar and add the peaches, cut side down.  Saute until the peaches have caramelized, about 5 – 7 minutes.  While the peaches are cooking, place the thick slices of foie gras in a heavy oven-proof skillet set on medium heat.  Season the foie gras slices with salt.  Sear each side of the foie gras for about 30 seconds, or until golden, and finish cooking in the oven, for about 2 minutes.  If using frozen slices of foie gras, start with a cold pan and cook over medium heat until the frozen pieces have thawed, the outside is golden and the inside is just set.

Mix all the fennel slaw ingredients and serve a portion on each plate.  When the foie gras is cooked, place half a peach on each plate, put a few blueberries in the center of the peach, and place the foie gras over the peach half.  Put the second half of the peach on top of the foie gras.  Spoon the Sauternes syrup over the “hamburgers”.

Serves 4


California Foie Gras Ban Won’t Stand in the Way of Connoisseurs

With the foie gras ban just around the corner, restaurants, retail specialty food stores and individual consumers have less than 30 days left to purchase foie gras in the state of California. There are, however, ways for foie gras connoisseurs in California to continue to enjoy the unique delicacy.

July 1, 2012 is the date on which the production and sale of foie gras will no longer be legal in California.  California State Senate Bill No. 1520 (SB 1520), referred to as the “California foie gras ban”, prohibits force feeding birds and the sale of any product “if it is the result of force feeding a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird’s liver beyond normal size”. Beginning July 1, 2012, SB 1520 authorizes police officers to issue citations of up to $1000 per violation per day. California restaurants will be forced to remove foie gras dishes from their menus, or risk getting fined.

SB 1520 was introduced by Democratic California State Senator John Burton on February 19, 2004, and was swiftly approved by the Assembly and Senate and signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger on September 29, 2004. Nearly eight years later, the ban will be enforced beginning July 1, 2012, preventing foie gras connoisseurs from freely enjoying the popular delicacy in the state of California.

The CHEFS coalition (Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards) is still actively working to repeal the ban, or at least define acceptable California foie gras production standards.  However, nothing solid has been accomplished yet.  Restaurants, specialty food stores, and individuals who enjoy foie gras hope that eventually the ban will be repealed, but in the meantime, Mirepoix USA has made arrangements to try to satisfy our customer’s desire for foie gras, while still respecting the legislation.

According to legal council, internet orders with a billing and/or shipping address in California will be considered a violation of the law.  Therefore, no orders can be shipped to California after July 1st.  This includes all foie gras products, and any other item produced from a foie gras duck (duck salami, duck breasts, duck fat, duck prosciutto, etc…).  Even orders placed with an out of state billing address could be considered a California sale if the product is shipped to California.

The following options are available for those who want to enjoy foie gras in the state of California:

STOCK UP AND SAVE: Mirepoix USA is offering Hudson Valley and Rougie foie gras packages, which have been discounted by 15 – 30%.  All the discounted packages can be easily identified–just look for the bright green “Stock up and Save” images.  All foie gras orders shipping to California must be placed by June 28th.  Most items advertised in this sale have an 18 – 24 month shelf life when properly stored in the freezer.  Buy Foie Gras

SAN FRANCISCO FOIE GRAS TASTING: On Thursday, June 21nd, Mirepoix USA will be holding a special event featuring foie gras appetizers such as foie gras ice cream on ginger snaps with aged balsamic vinegar, white and dark chocolate foie gras truffles, foie gras cured with lavender sea salt, and seared foie gras sandwich with duck bacon, spicy tomato jam and pea shoots.  Bourassa premium wines will be expertly paired with each foie gras appetizer.  The event will be held in downtown San Francisco from 7 – 9 pm.

Tickets for the Foie Gras Tasting are available on the Mirepoix USA website.

Some Hudson Valley Foie Gras products will be available for purchase at the event while supplies last.

PICK UP LOCATION IN RENO, NEVADA: We are arranging to have a physical location in Reno Nevada where foie gras can be purchased, stored in an insulated box with gel ice, and transported back to California.  A Las Vegas location is also being considered.

If you know others who enjoy foie gras, please help spread the word about the options Mirepoix USA is offering.

French Food Recipes: Goose Rillettes and Goose Leg Confit

This two-in-one recipe for both goose leg confit and goose rillettes requires a bit of planning ahead, but is not difficult or time consuming to make. Four goose legs with thighs attached will yield a good amount of rillettes and you’ll have an extra goose leg confit with enough meat to serve two. After the goose confit is cooked, there will be even more goose fat left than the amount with which you started.

This recipe can easily be modified to use duck meat instead of goose. Duck rillettes and duck confit are perhaps considered more traditional French foods, but both are equally delicious.

goose confit

Goose Confit Ingredients:

4 raw young goose legs with thighs attached, about 6 lbs.

3 tablespoons kosher salt

1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

25 cloves garlic

8 – 10 bay leaves, fresh or dried

8 – 10 sprigs fresh thyme

2 ½ lbs. rendered goose fat

Goose Confit Instructions:

Sprinkle 2 ½ tablespoons salt and the black pepper on the meat side of the goose legs. Put two goose legs in a 9 x 13 glass pan, skin side down. Place the garlic cloves, bay leaves and thyme on the meat side of the goose legs. Put the remaining two goose legs, meat side down on top of the others. The goose legs will be flesh to flesh with only the skin showing. Sprinkle the remaining ½ tablespoon salt on top of the goose legs (skin side). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 – 36 hours to cure the meat.

Remove the garlic, bay leaves and thyme from the cured goose legs and set aside. Rinse the salt and pepper from the goose legs under cool water. Pat the goose legs dry with paper towels. Place the garlic, 5 bay leaves and a few sprigs of thyme in the bottom of a large pot. Put the goose legs in the pot, fitting them as tightly as possible in the bottom of the pan (two legs in the bottom, skin side down, with the other two on top, skin side up). Add the rendered goose fat to the pan and set the stove burner to medium heat. Once the goose fat has melted, change the heat to low and allow the legs to simmer on low heat for about three hours, or until the meat is falling off the bones and fully tender.

Remove the goose legs, bay leaves, thyme, and garlic from the fat. Strain the fat and reserve for another use. There will be at least 2 ½ – 3 lbs. of goose fat.

The goose confit can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one month if the legs are covered with goose fat. The excess strained goose fat can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one month or in the freezer for six months to a year. Use the goose fat to fry vegetables or potatoes or use again to make duck or goose confit.

goose or duck rillettes

Goose Rillettes Ingredients:

3 goose legs confit

1 onion, minced

¼ cup cognac or brandy

3 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, minced

25 garlic cloves, reserved from goose confit

½ cup plus one tablespoon rendered goose fat, reserved from the goose confit

1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper

sea salt to taste

Goose Rillettes Instructions:

Saute the onions in 1 tablespoon reserved rendered goose fat until the onions are soft and lightly golden. Put the cognac or bandy in the pan with the onions and immediately set the alcohol on fire, tipping the pan towards the gas flame of the stove or by using a match. Set aside.

Remove the goose meat from the bones, while the goose confit is still warm.  Discard the skin and bones. Shred the goose meat slightly in your hands and place the chunks in the bowl of a food processor.

Add the cooked onions, parsley, reserved garlic cloves, goose fat, and salt and pepper to taste to the goose meat. Process all the ingredients just until the meat is shredded and the ingredients are mixed. Do not over process or the mixture will turn into a paste.

Put the goose rillettes mixture in a terrine and press lightly to mold the rillettes into a rectangular shape, or spoon into ramekins. If the rillettes will not be used immediately (within a few days) cover the top of the terrine or ramekins with reserved goose fat. Store for up to one week in the refrigerator.

Truffle Recipes: Prawn and Fennel Salad with Black Truffle Vinaigrette

Prawn and Fennel Salad with Black Truffle Vinaigrette


For the Salad

2 large bulbs of fennel (about 1.25 lbs. trimmed of stalks)

1/2 cup chicken stock

1/4 teaspoon black truffle salt

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 lb prawns, deveined and peeled, with tail on

2 large cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon marash chili

1/8 teaspoon truffle salt

5 cups arugula

Black Truffle Vinaigrette

1 teaspoon high quality aged balsamic vinegar such as Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, Reggio Emilia, Italy, Silver Label

2 tablespoons black truffle juice

1/4 teaspoon truffle salt

1 teaspoon black truffle oil

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil


Cut each fennel bulb into wedges, about 10 wedges per bulb.  Put 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the fennel and cook over medium low heat until golden brown, about 15 minutes.  Add the chicken broth, cover skillet, and cook until caramelized, about 30 minutes additional.  Season with truffle salt.

While the fennel is cooking, mix the prawns with 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil, garlic, marash chili, and truffle salt in a bowl.  Set aside for at least 15 minutes.

To make the vinaigrette, mix the aged balsamic vinegar, black truffle juice and salt.  Add the black truffle oil, then the olive oil in a thin stream while whisking the dressing, causing the dressing to emulsify.

When the fennel is soft and caramelized, put another skillet over medium high heat. Add the prawns, including the olive oil and seasoning.  Cook until the prawns are golden on the outside and have just begun the curl.

To serve, toss the arugula with the black truffle vinaigrette.  Add the fennel and toss lightly.  Divide the salad among 2 – 4 plates.  Top with prawns and serve warm.





The California Ban on Duck and Goose Foie Gras is Almost Here

As of July 1, 2012, a California law will ban the production and sale of foie gras within the state. That means there is just a short time remaining for the state’s retail specialty food stores, restaurants and consumers to purchase foie gras in California.

As a result of the imminent state-wide ban on sales of foie gras, Mirepoix USA, one of the world’s leading online foie gras retailers, has decided to move its base of operations from California to Reno, Nevada. Other California-based companies will need to follow suit to stay in business.

Why is California prohibiting foie gras sales and production? Let’s talk a bit about the text and meaning of the law before getting into the state’s reasons for imposing the ban, the penalties for violating the law, and the law’s effect on California’s foie gras companies and devotees.

California’s Statutory Ban on Foie Gras

The statute (California State Senate Bill No. 1520 or SB 1520) prohibits the practice of force-feeding birds and the sale of products arising out of that practice if the force-feeding is performed “for the purpose of enlarging the bird’s liver beyond normal size.” Because gavage (the French term for force-feeding through a tube inserted into a bird’s esophagus) is the method foie gras producers typically use to fatten and enlarge a bird’s liver, California’s statute will prohibit the production of any form of duck or goose foie gras. Sales will not be permitted in California no matter where the foie gras is produced.

SB 1520 was signed into law by then-California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004. Since that time opposition groups have unsuccessfully attempted to have the law overturned. Enforcement of the ban is scheduled to begin on July 1, 2012.

The State’s Reasons for Banning Duck and Goose Foie Gras and the Opposition’s Response

As with most things in life, there are two sides of the story. Supporters of SB 1520, including many animal rights activists, maintain that gavage is cruel and inhumane. In fact, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Farm Sanctuary, the Animal Protection and Rescue League, and other animal rights groups were instrumental in getting the law on the books. SB 1520 was signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger after sailing through the California legislature.

Naturally, the law’s opponents (foie gras producers, retailers, a number of prominent restaurants and chefs, and foie gras connoisseurs) disagree, denying that gavage is inhumane or constitutes cruelty to animals. They contend there is nothing cruel or inhumane about gavage because (unlike people) ducks and geese do not have a gag reflex. Furthermore, they say, in the wild these birds are accustomed to swallowing fish whole and consuming large quantities of food to gain weight prior to their migratory flights.

Sanctions for Violating California’s Foie Gras Ban and the Law’s Effects on California Businesses and Consumers

Once enforcement of the ban commences on July 1, 2012, California’s police and animal control officers will be authorized to issue citations which will carry fines of up to $1,000 per day per violation. California restaurants will be forced to remove all foie gras dishes from their menus or assume the risk of paying substantial fines. As a practical matter, foie gras enthusiasts will no longer be able to savor the delicacy in any California restaurant.

Likewise, California-based foie gras producers and retailers will be forced to close down their California operations and relocate elsewhere. As mentioned above, Mirepoix USA has already moved to Nevada, but other companies will be affected too, including Sonoma Foie Gras. Hudson Valley Foie Gras, a prominent New York foie gras producer, has modified its production techniques. It has also been striving to arrive at standards for foie gras production that California would consider humane and acceptable. However, as of the date of this writing, no acceptable standard has been established and companies will be forced to relocate or pay crippling fines.

Unquestionably, it will be burdensome for foie gras producers and retailers to leave California, but the real losers here may be the state’s consumers. Although they will be able to physically leave the state, buy duck and goose foie gras from retailers located elsewhere and then bring it back to California, they will not be able to buy it online and have it shipped to a California address. And obviously, the state’s foie gras enthusiasts will no longer be able to enjoy their favorite delicacy in the state’s finer restaurants.

Foie Gras Recipes: Seared Foie Gras with Smoked Duck Breast, Lentils, Caramelized Leeks and Black Truffle Oil

As much as I appreciate and enjoy slow food, there is something to be said for luxury on the go.  I like to eat well everyday, and I do indulge in luxury foods throughout the week.  Often the recipes I create from whatever I have in the refrigerator, freezer and pantry, are among my favorites, and generally I have dinner on the table in about 30 minutes.

Spontaneous luxury cooking requires having a relatively well stocked kitchen.  The ingredients I almost always have on hand to enhance any meal include shallots, garlic, ginger, onions, fresh herbs, aged balsamic vinegar, black truffle oil, white truffle oil, truffle salt, pine nuts, and fleur de sel.  I always have a good selection of vegetables on hand, which vary by the season.  In the freezer I generally keep a supply of chicken stock and veal stock, stored in half a cup and one cup containers. Additionally I almost always have flash frozen portioned foie gras, foie gras cubes, duck legs confit, fresh duck breasts (raw), and sea scallops in the freezer.  These foods can be kept in the freezer for six months or longer and are nice to have on hand for last minute luxury meals.

One of my recent quick luxury meals consisted of a bed of lentils (precooked, purchased at Trader Joe’s) with caramelized leeks, fresh thyme and a drizzle of black truffle oil, sliced smoked duck breast, and seared foie gras. It look me about 30 minutes to prepare and serve this dinner.  Here’s the recipe for 2 people.

1 1/4 cups cooked lentils

3 – 4 leeks, cleaned and sliced in 1/2 inch rounds

A few sprigs of fresh thyme

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup chicken stock (store bought is fine)

Sea salt (or truffle salt) and pepper

One 12-oz smoked duck breast, sliced

Two 2-0z portions flash frozen foie gras, sprinkled with salt and pepper and scored on both sides

1 teaspoon black truffle oil

a few drops of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar

Cook the leeks in olive oil over medium heat until the leeks are hot and starting to brown.  Add chicken stock and cover.  Cook for about 20 minutes, keeping the pan moist with chicken stock as needed.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Continue cooking until leeks are golden and somewhat caramelized.  Set aside.

Place the still frozen foie gras slices in a cold heavy skillet.  Turn heat to medium.  Cook the foie gras about 2 1/2 to 3 minutes on each side until golden brown on the outside and just set on the inside (similar to a custard).

To serve, make a bed of lentils and put the leeks directly on top of the lentils.  Drizzle with black truffle oil.  Place the duck breast on top of the leeks to one side and place the seared foie gras on top of the smoked duck breast.  Drizzle the plate with aged balsamic vinegar.