When wading into the subject of foie gras and the process of making it, the waters quickly begin to darken. While gavage (force feeding ducks and geese) is an age-old tradition dating back to Ancient Egypt, it is an almost universally vilified procedure today, with some countries – including the UK – having banned it completely.
You can still buy and eat foie gras in this country – it is, after all, still considered the apex of luxury – but many chefs have opted against having it for animal welfare reasons. Some of the restaurants who do use it change the way it is described on menus to avoid public backlash.
But while you may be able to call foie gras ‘duck liver’ on a menu, the issues of animal cruelty that surround the ingredient make it one of the most infamous aspects of mainstream gastronomy.
Michelin-starred chef Alexis Gauthier debuted his solution to the problem last year: a vegan-friendly mixture made from olive oil, shallots, salt, garlic, button mushrooms, rosemary, thyme, sage, cognac, cooked lentils, toasted walnuts and soy sauce blended together, with beetroot puree added for colour. However, he admitted at the time that it probably wouldn't fool gourmands.
Foie Royale, on the other hand, just might. The lab-made alternative is fast making a name for itself in Europe. Described as the world’s first ethically produced foie gras product, it is already being hailed and used by a number of prestigious chefs on the continent and the UK.
Since the beginning of July, it’s even entered Waitrose, as the consumer desire for so-called ‘clean meat’ gains steam.
Cleaning up foie gras
Lab-grown meat has long been in development all over the world. Foie Royale has developed its own unique (and top secret) take on the concept – a process that took six years to master.
“We had the idea of producing a morally acceptable alternative to foie gras around seven years ago and we only just cracked it in the spring of last year!” Logut tells Food Spark.
“We work with a farmer in Germany who is renowned for his ethically raised ducks and geese for meat production. These birds enjoy a considerable amount of freedom and aren’t subject to wing or beak clipping. German law prohibits gavage.”
The livers, which are a by-product of the slaughtering process, are taken to the labs at the Institute of Food Technology in Quakenbrück, which Foie Royale has been working with on R&D and production from almost the start. The cells are broken down and then fused back together in the same composition as foie gras.
“Not only is it just as good, if not better, than traditional foie gras, it’s also more consistent, as we’re using technology to create the product to exact specifications. We incorporate pascalisation, a high-pressure technique often used in food sterilisation and preservation, to fuse the fat cells together.
“However, I can’t disclose the specific details of the process!”
Foie Royale can be used identically to traditional foie gras and is said to not split or leak during cooking (often the case with low-grade foie gras).
A royale welcome
“We’ve had amazing reception from a number of chefs and restaurants,” says Logut, “The Dutch and Germans have a real problem with foie gras because of gavage, but there are some 11 Michelin-starred restaurants in Amsterdam now experimenting with Foie Royale and, I think, six major chefs in the UK."
A couple of months ago, Logut hosted a dinner with 15 different Britain-based chefs where Tom Browning from Lewtrenchard Manor (in Devon) arranged a six-course tasting menu based around Foie Royale. The response, says Logut, was “extraordinary.”
“They had dishes such as our goose Foie Royale with confit chicken ravioli, a roulade of smoked eel and our duck Foie Royale, and even a millefeuille with 70% dark chocolate and duck Foie Royale powder,” he continues.
“The use of foie gras in restaurants has reduced markedly since the 80s but there is a real market for an alternative in countries such as the UK, Holland and Germany. We launched in Waitrose a few weeks ago and I think retail will be one of our largest markets – but only after a period of re-education.”
The next place Logut hopes to take his invention may be his most challenging market of all: Paris.
“Traditional foie gras is such an important part of French gastronomic heritage – but you never know!”
Could Foie Royale’s lab-orientated process be applied to other meat products?
“It took a lot of time and money to achieve our process, but we have been experimenting with other lab-fused meats,” says Logut.
“The fat cells are key to having a genuine foie gras taste in the mouth and tongue. And while we’ve worked out how to break down and fuse fat cells, it’s not as simple with other cells and we haven’t been able to achieve similar results with other meats.”