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Jun 4, 2009 01:18 AM

Unusual and un-PC, but I have to know! Ortolan?

Hello fellow 'Hounds,

I am curious about the eating of ortolan (ortolan bunting) in France, as it stands in 2009. I understand that it is illegal to sell ortolan, but I am uncertain about the rest of the story behind this gastronomic tradition.

Can someone shed some light?

As always, thanks in advance!

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  1. 1. Find ortolan
    2. Poke its eyes out
    3. Force feed it millet until it swells up to 3 or 4x it's normal size
    4. Drown it in cognac
    5. Pluck feathers (I'm surprised they don't do this while it's still alive, considering the brutality so far)
    6. Roast it whole
    7. Place in deep bowl
    8. Place napkin over head (to savor aroma and hide your shame from God)
    9. Insert into mouth, whole, with only beak sticking out
    10. Chew

    First you taste the skin/juice of the bird, which is supposedly amazing. Then you get the bitterness of the organs. Then the tiny bones begin to lacerate your gums and cheeks, and the resulting blood draw from your own mouth mixes with the bird and is part of the flavor. Many people spit it out. Apparently former French President Mitterand ate 2 for his last meal, then ate nothing for 8 days, then died.

    I highly suggest listening to Michael Paterniti's staggering, funny, and shocking tale about ortolan and recreating Mitterand's last meal. It's act 2 on the episode of This American Life linked below. Don't miss it!

    9 Replies
    1. re: foodmonster

      Merci! I'm familiar with the process, but the WHERE is what I'm interested in...

        1. re: PhilD

          Illegal in France, but how about outside France? Again, where can one legally try it?

          1. re: J.L.

            I think they are caught in Italy too, but they may be illegal there also. I would also point out that according to waht I read it is currently not illegal to eat ortolans, just to sell them for eating, though that may change.

            1. re: jumpingmonk

              i've heard you can get them in Monacco...

              1. re: Big C

                I once had a French hunting schedule, the only bird i can remember that came in to season at some time was the Skylark, how many of those would you need for 4 people?

                EU directive on skylark harvesting:

                3. Harvesting (3)
                Within the EU25, legal harvesting of Skylarks only occurs in five countries: France, Italy, Malta, Greece
                and Cyprus. Besides, sizeable numbers may be harvested in northern Spain. Hunting is carried out partly
                for food (3.1) and partly as a cultural and leisure activity

              2. re: jumpingmonk

                jjmonk: that is also my impression and the only way you can get them in the States is to be invited to the annual French embassy and consulate dinners.

          2. re: J.L.

            In the U.S., it would be illegal for virtually every species of bird except a handful that are not protected by federal law. This would include English Sparrows and European Starlings. I am no animal rights type, but this is cruelty beyond the pale.

          3. re: foodmonster

            They are drowned in Armagnac not Cognac.

          4. The original comment has been removed
            1. The New Yorker had an excellent essay on this very subject by Jonathan Frantzen in the July 26, 2010 issue. The title was "Emptying the Skies". Here is a link to the outline of the article, (you need a subscription to read the entire article. Note the watercolor image, please.)


              The article on this revolting "sport" of slaughtering these songbirds is very, very graphic.

              1 Reply
              1. re: SherBel

                And for anyone who's interested in the episode from This American Life that was linked above -- that link is no longer good, but here's the redirect: