This is a story of an obsessive journey that starts a long time ago in France where both Christina and I were introduced to the delights and wonderful nutrition to be had from eating duck meat.
Not the gamey and usually tough wild duck or the bony and upright Pekin duck but the plump succulent Moulard and Muscovy ducks that form a staple of French cuisine.
The southwest of France is the regional center for duck production and duck producers there take immense pride in the quality of the ducks they raise as do the chefs with their recipes for all things duck.
We love duck. My particular favorites are seared duck breast and duck confit. The rich dark meat closer in texture and appearance to venison or bison than it is to either turkey or chicken is packed with omega 3’s and very low in cholesterol (the southwest region of France has the lowest incidence of heart disease and stroke than anywhere else in Europe and they eat more duck there than hamburger meat!)
When we opened Farmers Gastropub in October 2009, it goes without saying duck featured in our menu planning. That is where we hit our first speed bump.
Our whole philosophy is to serve local fresh food and support our local community and no one in our area was raising the kind of ducks we wanted. We found an excellent producer in New York State called D’Artagnan Gourmet Meats and yes we did buy duck from them but every time we ordered I was painfully aware of the fact that this was the only meat that we didn’t buy from local producers. It wasn’t even from anywhere in the whole state of Missouri!
So we started our quest – first find the eggs, then a hatchery, then someone to raise them and finally a USDA or Missouri State inspected processor who would process them.
Hours on the internet and phones followed with lots of disappointment. Kip & Jackie Glass of Autumn Olive Farm (Raised Right Meats) were, for a long time, our only ray of hope when they offered to raise them for us but cautioned that the processing would be our biggest problem.
Undaunted, we continued our quest to find a hatchery and in summer last year we found a supplier in Oklahoma who would supply us Muscovy ducklings so we ordered 25 as an initial experiment and Kip picked them up for us. We had fun watching them grow and forage in the long grass in Kip’s pastures but we noted that they weren’t getting as big as we hoped and there was a vast difference in size between the biggest and smallest.
Then a big shock, in fact it was sticker shock! We found a processor willing to process our ducks but the price was $15 per bird versus the $2 per bird that they charge for chickens! We were committed now and really had no choice but to agree.
I took our ducks myself to be processed and watched the whole procedure and it is true they were much harder to pluck than a chicken but the problem was compounded by the size – some of our ducks only weighed 4 pounds, about the size of a chicken and just not big enough to make the duck confit that I love so much. When I totaled up the price of the ducklings, paying Kip & Jackie to feed and raise them plus the processing, the price we had paid per pound made them the most expensive meat we have ever bought. True, they tasted great but were like a miniature version of what we had been and had to continue buying from D’Artagnan Gourmet Meats and had cost almost twice the price!
It was time to re-think based on what we had learned:
- The ducks grow just fine here in SW Missouri
- Our ducks weren’t big enough and they weren’t very consistent in size
- There must be an easier and quicker way to pluck them
- We still wanted to serve locally produced duck dishes in our restaurant
- We didn’t know where we had gone wrong
We decided that we had better find out and the best place to start was where our love affair with duck had all begun, SW France, so we planned a trip and went last October.
Christina contacted her colleagues from Independent Stave Company in their Bordeaux office and I called my friend and chef mentor Jean Jacques Sanodoz who had, as luck would have it, retired back to his birthplace in a region called “le Périgord” just 2 hours from Bordeaux.
They both found us producers to visit but when Jean Jacques said “I get my ducks from the finest producer in the region and my aunt works there”, it was a done deal. I have written in more detail about this trip in a previous blog so for now let’s just look at what we learned:
- The French raise only Moulard or jumbo Muscovy ducks, they call the later Barbary ducks
- Moulard ducks are a cross- breed between Muscovy and Pekin ducks
- They raise only male ducks for meat as they grow twice as big as the females
- They do have quicker and easier ways of plucking them but the cheapest of their equipment costs 4000 Euros about $5000 US new
We returned home and continued our quest to find our next ducklings. It seems that Moulard ducklings or eggs are just not available here in the US. I spoke with a French farmer in Minneapolis who imports eggs from France and only supplies to restaurants within 60 miles of his location, but we did find a breeder in Pennsylvania (an Amish farmer) who has jumbo Muscovies.
After checking with Kip & Jackie to make sure they were up for raising them for us again we took a big deep breath and ordered 100 day old ducklings that were sexed at birth and would be guaranteed 95% male.
The ducklings arrived three and a half months ago and started shooting up from the day they arrived. We were all impressed by their growth rate and healthiness despite the difficult weather conditions this year. Happily they were also all about the same size. About six weeks ago we also learned that a farmer’s life is not always a happy one when we lost 22 of our ducks to an attack by wild dogs despite the electric fencing surrounding their part of the pasture and their moveable shelter.
Apart from that terrible event our ducks had spent a happy three and a half months reaching full maturity. They had been well cared for and well-fed on non GMO grains and natural forage, then last Friday they went to be processed.
Yes it was the same processor we used the first time and yes it still cost $15 per duck but the beautiful 7-8 pound ducks are just what we have been craving. We cooked one in the Pub on Tuesday and the smiles on all of the chefs’ faces, together with those of our servers who were there at the time as we tasted the fruits of our labors said it all, “THEY ARE DELICIOUS! “ I even brought one home and roasted it like a turkey served with roasted plum and brandy sauce, local new potatoes and green beans. It was amazing, a true gourmet delight! We opened a very nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon that we have been saving for a very special occasion because this was very definitely it!
So there you have it, we finally have completed the circle. All of our meats, even the ducks are now sourced locally and we are really proud of that.
A big thanks to Kip & Jackie from Raised Right Meats for the wonderful job they did raising our ducks as they do with all their animals.
Now if we could just get a piece of ocean to Missouri we could have locally caught seafood as well!!
For now we will just have to be satisfied with making sure all of our fresh ocean fish and seafood is sustainably caught. We also have a great source of local fresh trout from Mountain Springs Trout Farm just south of Nixa.
Let the Duck Fest begin! Come in on a Friday or Saturday and partake of this wonderful, delicate, delicious and yes even sensual food we call duck.
Final note; Christina has already set my personal limit to only one duck meal per week because when we lived in France I was up to eating duck four or five times a week and she wants me to save some for our customers at Farmers Gastropub. Oh Well!
Eat well, live long and prosper