Stone Barns producing "wild" foie gras?
First off, a chef is only as good as his ingredients. If your ingredients suck your food cannot taste good. What Dan Barber and his team are doing at Stone Barns Farm and Blue Hill Restaurant is extraordinary. Seventy percent of the food for Blue Hill is made in walking distance from the restaurant. I just think that is so cool. Knowing where your food comes is so important. When you see how beautiful your ingredients are you are going to showcase the ingredients, not hide them. Also, in regards to proteins like pork, geese, turkey, etc. you are going to use every part of the animal that is possible and you are going to make sure you cook it perfectly to honor the animal that gave its life up for you. Thomas Keller once had to kill the rabbit he was going to use at his restaurant, The French Laundry and after he killed the rabbits he made sure he was going to use every part and not screw it up because he saw the rabbits suffering and wanted to honor the rabbit's life. Animals that are happy taste much better than animals that are miserable. Turkeys that never once see daylight, or chickens that cannot walk, or pigs that live in filthy factory conditions, etc. taste artificial.
I got to Stone Barns Farm at 10:45 for an 11:00 O'clock tour of the whole facility. When I got to the main square, waiting for the tour guide, I am pretty sure I saw Dan Barber. I think I saw him walk into his restaurant Blue Hill. I only saw the back of him so I am not 100% sure. He was to far away and there was not enough time to approach him, even though I wish I did.
We met our tour guide who was in charge of all of the vegetables at Stone Barns. We started off by going through Blue Hill Restaurant. The kitchen was of a good size and there was a class going on about Thanksgiving cooking. The dining room was casual and elegant without being fussy.
Next, we went to all of the vegetables. The land was choppy and there was some rocks in the land so it was not the ideal farming conditions, but they are still able to work with the land and get amazing products. After every harvesting season the vegetables rotate in the farm. If you keep one vegetable in the same place every year the soil will lose it's high quality and the vegetables would be very prone to getting wiped out by a disease. The farm was growing garlic, lettuces, cabbages, root vegetables, wild herbs, and much more. They have about 100 different type of vegetables growing in the farm.
Then, we went to see the animals. The chickens were running around and seemed so happy. They had two types of chicken, one for laying eggs and another for the actual meat. The chickens that were raised for their eggs produce 5 eggs a week. The chickens are not a problem for the farmers, except when one of the eggs break. If an egg breaks and a chicken eats it that chicken will start to break open more eggs and eat them.
The geese were also running around and were very happy. I asked the tour guide if they ever tried raising geese for their liver (foie gras). He said that they had a farmer come from Spain who taught the farmers about raising humane foie gras. You have to trick the geese so they think they are about to go migrate. When they think they are going to go migrate they start stuffing themselves for the journey. When the geese start to stuff themselves you feed them fatty foods, like nuts or corn, and the liver gets engorged and delicious. However there first go with the wild foie gras did not succeed, but hopefully they will try again.
The turkeys were huge and looked just like the wild turkey that walk around my neighborhood. They were breeding a wild turkey and then a more traditional Thanksgiving butterball turkey. The turkeys are really only sold during Thanksgiving time.
Stone Barns breeds their own type of lamb. The lamb's are used primarily for their meat and secondly for their wool. The lamb are let to graze and eats all different types of grasses, bugs, and worms which brings happiness to there life because they experience diversity (This is the same with all of the animals at Stone Barns).
Stone Barns also breeds Berkshire pigs. The pigs are usually slaughtered at 9 months old. Every animal with two legs gets slaughtered at Stone Barns, while all for leg animals have to get sent out and get gutted. Then the gutted four legged animals come back to the restaurant where they are butchered in house.
After the tour it was time to eat at the Cafe. I wish I could have gone to eat at Blue Hill, but they did not serve lunch. We waited about 30 minutes on line to get food. I got foccaccia with caramelized onions and squash, Ronny Brooks chocolate milk, and two hard boiled fresh farm eggs. The eggs had bright orange yolks and with salt were absolutely delicious and creamy. The foccaccia was also good but needed some salt and acid.
The whole experience was great. I learned a lot and cannot wait to come back and go to Blue Hill and maybe meet Dan Barber.
Alot of people do not do it because it is nearly impossible. A farmer in Spain has been doing it for hundred of years. it takes years for the geese to always think they are about to migrate. Once a wild goose thinks it has to go on it's migration because, Im guessing, the temperature drops. The farmers will load the field where the geese are with nuts that the really fatty and the geese will eat a ton so they will be able to survive the "migration". I think this is how it works.
tldmatrix, thanks for sharing your Blue Hill experience.
I grew up in Upstate New York where hunting, farming and knowing where your food comes from is not new. I have childhood memories of my great grandparents raising chickens, etc. Many municipalities have passed Right to Farm legislation to protect farmers. It will be interesting to see what impact Walmart's new sustainable-agriculture initiative will have on farmers. Hopefully all these efforts will lead to more buying local and better tasting food. . .so agree with your perspective re: chefs.
It was interesting to read that Blue Hill raises geese. "Foie Gras . . . A Passion" by Ginor, the co-founder of Hudson Valley Foie Gras, discusses how ducks/geese must gorge in preparation for their twice-annual long distance migrations. I believe Hudson Valley Foie Gras uses ducks, not geese. There was also an interesting article about foie gras in the Village Voice last year.
This thread has me thinking about Saratoga National's foie gras of the day. . .and Falai's foie gras three ways - foie gras mousse in a bittersweet chocolate shell is the only way I remember. I wish they would put that dish back on their menu.