Egyptians were the first to observe that the liver of geese before the onset of winter tasted richer and better. They started to feed their domesticated birds a diet of dried figs a few weeks before slaughter. Greeks learned about fattened geese from Egyptians with whom they had considerable cultural and commercial exchanges.
But of all nations in antiquity, Romans outdid all and established farms to fatten geese and gorge themselves with fattened goose liver prepared in many ways. The cooks were mostly slaves who acquired their skills by apprenticing with established and famous chefs.
Geese are strictly vegetarian, large, vicious, migratory birds. There are 20 species, some of which are domesticated, i.e Grey Leg and white fronted goose. Dressed weight of geese range from four to six kilograms, and still today in parts of France and most of Germany roasted goose is more popular as a festive main course than turkey.
The French like to cook with goose fat which has more flavour. Some gourmets simply spread rendered goose fat on rye bread and enjoy it with a glass of dry white wine.
French chefs long ago discovered the richness of goose meat, and cook the neck in its own fat (confit d’oie), then use it in cassoulet, a rich dish of dried beans, root vegetables served with apples to help digest the food better.
But more importantly French chefs popularized fattened goose liver (foie gras d’oie) and invented many imaginative ways to cook and present it. Most of the pates and variations thereof are now manufactured in Sarlat (famous for its truffle processors) and Strasbourg in Alsace.
You can buy canned foie gras, pate de foie gras, truffled pate de foie gras, parfait de foie gras or pate with cognac or port.
Producing a fatty goose liver requires force-feeding the bird, which used to be a cruel process, but now with advanced technology the severity has been diminished. Regardless, some North American animal rights activists still fight both duck and geese farms. In Sonoma County fattened goose farms have been banned.
In France production of foie gras has now become too expensive, therefore processors import the raw material from Poland, Hungary, or Israel, where costs are considerably lower.
Preparation and packaging of foie gras are still the domain of French chefs. The French are the best customers of fattened goose liver and its various manufactured pates.
Today, geese are fed with a warmed mixture of ground corn and water twice a day. The few weeks of force-feeding render the liver twice the size of normal and richer.
In Egypt the birds were fed dried figs, as Central North American and natives only cultivated corn.
Fattened liver is an expensive luxury food that requires cooking expertise in and imagination of presentation.
Foie gras d’oie, and foie gras de canard carry the same name, but they two different products and taste distinctly different. Most gourmets agree that foie d’oie has a smoother, richer texture and taste that that of duck.
Foie gras and Sauternes or late harvest gewürztraminer from Alsace, or late harvest riesling from Ontario, are excellent matches for seared foie gras d’oie.