Goose producers add value with ethical foie gras

A new brand of British foie gras from BenningPinsent Ethical Fine Foods aims to capture the Christmas market and has already gained interest from a Michelin star chef.

As managing director of The London Fine Foods, Kenneth Benning has expert knowledge of speciality foods such as caviar, truffles and foie gras, and together with business partner Charlie Pinsent has worked with key people in the food industry.

Using their experiences, Mr Benning and Mr Pinsent began their partnership in April this year with the aim of creating an ethical brand of foie gras.

But, when they first began researching the idea, finding contacts proved difficult. “We began researching Spain after we discovered ethical foie gras had successfully been produced by a producer there, but we were hitting brick walls, phone numbers on websites were wrong and it seemed nobody had the product,” says Mr Benning.

“We couldn’t find any contacts, but that didn’t stop us. So we decided it might be a challenge if we produced the first British ethical foie gras.”

Rougie foie gras is already a top seller at The London Fine Foods, where the product is de-veined, flash frozen at -40C and then heat- sliced into individual portions. The advantage of this method is to prevent the product crumbling and enables easy preparation. Other brands available include Edouard Artzner and Georges Bruck.

The standard method of foie gras production means in the last 21-24 days of a goose’s life, it has up to a 1kg of feed pushed into the bottom of its gullet using a metal or rubber tube known as a gavage. “This is perceived as a cruel method,” says Mr Pinsent.

“But it is a luxury product and it’s the consumer’s choice, like Fairtrade and normal coffee,” he adds.

However, the ethical method follows natural feeding patterns of geese. “What we are doing is offering a high fat meal at the right time,” says Mr Benning.

The natural instinct of geese is to eat more before they migrate, so at this time, even though these geese are not migrating, they will be fed a high-fat diet, says Mr Benning.

Marriages Feed Company in Chelmsford, along with its nutritionist Jo Montague, has developed the special type of feed needed to fatten the liver of a goose. And this is known as the “Benning Pinsent Goose Finisher.”

Mr Benning and Mr Pinsent’s ethical foie gras is also being backed by The British Poultry Council (BPC) and experienced goose producer Eddie Heggerty, who has written to all his members to attract interest.

With three farms on board there are between 500-600 birds being finished on the “Benning Pinsent Goose Finisher” this Christmas.

Having managed to eventually track down the Spanish producer, Mr Benning drove to Spain in August to see his operation of 2500 geese. There, foie gras is selling at e540/kg (£462/kg), retail, for an ethical liver.

“The geese in Spain are fed a diet of acorns, figs, olives and lupins. But this wouldn’t work in the UK. It has to be a British diet.

“The cost of feeding the geese on the specially produced British diet works out at £5 a day for 100 birds,” explains Mr Benning.

“Lots of people have boycotted foie gras because of its cruelty but we are offering an ethically-friendly version that they can enjoy. It’s also British and local and there has been a lot of focus on British localised produce in the media, so there has to be a market,” says Mr Pinsent.

“Just as free range has been the focus since the Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall TV programmes, ethical foie gras should also follow,” adds Mr Benning.

The BenningPinsent Ethical Fine Foods version of foie gras will be available for consumers in terrines and flash-frozen for the wholesale market.

For the restaurant trade, the foie gras will be vacuum-sealed on the farm and sent to the restaurants directly. And by-products will also include goose fat, says Mr Benning.

Foie gras facts

  • The UK consumption of standard foie gras amounts to 4500 tonnes
  • Benning Pinsent Ethical Fine Foods is producing the first British Ethical Foie Gras
  • Ethical foie gras will be available in terrines for consumers
  • It will be flash frozen for the wholesale market

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