The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Foie gras

Foie gras [fwä grä] (French for "fat liver") is the liver of a duck or goose that is swollen by overfeeding. Along with truffles, foie gras is considered one of the greatest delicacies in the world of French cuisine. It is very rich and buttery, with a delicate flavor unlike regular duck or goose liver.

The way in which it is produced is regarded by some people, including organizations lobbying for animal rights, as cruel. The production and consumption of it are therefore controversial, and the former, and possible both, are illegal in some parts of the world.


History and main producers

Pliny credits the Roman gastronome Apicius, whose name is associated with the sole surviving Roman cookbook, with force feeding figs to geese to enlarge their livers. The idea may have been derived from Hellenistic Alexandria: most of Roman luxury cuisine owed its inspirations to Greeks. Roman culture would have spread the technique to Gaul:

France is now the "home" of foie gras. 80% of the world production (16370 tonnes in 2003, 96% in duck and the rest in goose), and 98% of the transformation, occur in France.[1],1-0@2-3228,36-391307,0.html The main areas of foie gras production can be found in the southwest: Périgord (Dordogne) and Midi-Pyrénées régions in the southwest, as well as in the east (Alsace). The European Union recognizes the foie gras produced according to traditional farming methods (label rouge) in southwestern France with a geographical indication of provenance.

Production methods

The geese or ducks used in foie gras production have their throats held open temporarily to allow the farmer to pour feed directly into the stomach. The excess feed, usually corn, causes large amounts of fat to deposit in the liver, producing the buttery consistency. This exploits a natural process through which geese and ducks store fat in their livers in preparation for winter migration.

Geese used in foie gras production are generally Moullard geese.


Foie gras, in France, exists in some different legally-defined presentations, from the high-end to the low-end:

  • foie gras entier (entire foie gras), made of one or two whole liver lobes; it can be cooked (cuit), semi-cooked (mi-cuit), or fresh (frais);
  • foie gras, made of pieces of livers reassembled together;
  • bloc de foie gras, a fully-cooked, molded block made of 98% or more foie gras; if termed avec morceaux ("with pieces"), it must contain at least 50% of pieces of foie gras for goose, and 30% for duck.

In addition, there exist pâté de foie gras, mousse de foie gras (both must be made with 50% or more of foie gras), parfait de foie gras (75% or more foie gras) and other preparations (no legal obligation).

Fully cooked preparations are generally sold in metallic or glass cans for long-term conservation. Whole fresh foie gras is not usually available, except in some producers' markets in the producing regions. Frozen whole foie gras are sometimes sold in French supermarkets.

Foie gras may be flavored with truffles or liquors such as armagnac. It is often served with a dessert wine such as Sauternes as the rich sweet flavours go well together, a classic example of wine and food matching. Some people, on the other hand, prefer it with a dry white wine, such as those from Alsace. Accompaniments may include onion jam.


Foie gras is a luxury dish. In France, it is generally consumed only on special occasions, such as Christmas or New Year's Day eve réveillon dinners, though the recent increased availability of foie gras has made it a less exceptional dish.

Duck foie gras is the cheaper and by far the most common kind.


Some people regard the forced feeding of geese and ducks, known as gavage in French, as cruel. Following from pressures of organizations lobbying for animal rights, certain jurisdictions have banned gavage.

Foie gras is illegal in several locations, and legislation is pending in others. In August, 2003, the Supreme Court of Israel declared foie gras production to be animal cruelty, and made production illegal begining in March, 2005. On September 29, 2004, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law that will ban the production or sale of foie gras from force fed birds in the state by 2012. The law would allow foie gras produced by methods that are not considered animal cruelty. Similar legislation is pending in New York. California and New York are currently the only US states with foie gras industries.

The production of Foie gras through gavage is already illegal in Germany and Denmark, though the importation and consumption of foie gras are legal.

External links

  • About preparation:
    • Foie Gras FAQ: The Liver Everyone Loves
  • About the controversy on gavage:
    • News reports
      • Fox News story about California's anti-foie gras law
      • report on Israeli ruling
    • Campaigns against force-feeding
      • The Truth about Foie Gras (from a point of view that gavage is cruelty against animals)
      • Stopgavage Manifesto for the abolition of force-feeding (French site with pages in English)
      • Stop Force-Feeding
    • Legal texts
      • German law, §10 prohibiting gavage (in German)

Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55