Creating a food product that is loved by millions of people and reviled by just as many can be a formidable task for some, but Hudson Valley Foie Gras gladly takes on the challenge. Back in 1982, before foie gras—specially fattened duck or goose liver—was a delicacy served in upscale restaurants across America, Izzy Yanay started the first foie gras farm in the United States. It was also the first foie gras company in the world to raise ducks and produce foie gras all in one location, and in 1990 it became Hudson Valley Foie Gras. Over the years, Hudson Valley Foie Gras has been at the forefront of bringing the famous French delicacy to the American people and transforming it into the fine-dining staple it has become, served at restaurants like Per Se and Eleven Madison Park.
Hudson Valley’s Moulard ducks are a cross between the Muscovy and Pekin ducks, according to Jenny Chamberlain, Chef of Product Development: “The Moulard is an ideal breed for foie gras due their flavor, bigger size, and, they’re actually less susceptible to disease.” The farm is home to over 100,000 ducks at any given time, with 5,000 of them being processed a week. In addition to foie gras, Hudson Valley also sells duck breasts, prosciutto and various other goods.
While animal rights groups might focus on the alleged mistreatment by farms that raise ducks for foie gras, Chamberlain explains, “We have an open-door policy at the farm. Anyone is welcome to come by and see how the process works.” The farm receives their ducks from Quebec, Canada, and they are fed a high-protein diet and remain in climate-controlled nurseries until they are four weeks old. At that point the duck are moved into coops, and are allowed to roam freely and eat whenever, with the food and water separated to encourage exercise.
At twelve weeks is when the controversial process of gavage begins. Gavage, a process of force-feeding the animals, is an 18 day labor-intensive process that involves the 200 employees of Hudson Valley Foie Grass hand-feeding 350 ducks per person, three times a day. According to Chamberlain, “While many think force feeding the ducks is cruel, we are simply mimicking the natural process where ducks who are migrating eat more food than usual to store the fat in their livers. The reason foie gras was discovered is hunters discovered this phenomenon when ducks were flying south for the winter.” Chamberlain is also careful to point out the trachea and esophagus are separate passages in a duck’s body, so it is physically impossible for them to choke on the food. She is extremely knowledgeable about the process that each duck goes through and each step is carefully monitored and recorded, from how much the ducks eat at every meal to how much waste they produce.
Creating foie gras is not easy, and selling it has not been easy either. A law passed in 2004 and enacted in 2012 made it illegal to produce or sell foie gras in California. “It was hard on us,” Chamberlain admitted. “California is home to some of the top restaurants in the country, and when they could no longer serve foie gras, we took a hit.” On January 7th, 2015, the ban was lifted, and Hudson Valley Foie Gras is now back in California, at restaurants like the San Francisco institution La Folie.