KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Foie gras is a delicacy in Europe, but the fatty goose or duck liver is banned in many countries because the birds are usually force fed, which many people see as cruel. Now a Spanish farmer and an expert on migratory birds claim they have found a more ethical way of making foie gras. Lauren Frayer went to a farm in southwest Spain to learn more.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Five hours drive southwest of Madrid, I pull into a tiny village with a church in a square filled with songbirds where Eduardo Sousa and Diego Labourdette are waiting.
DIEGO LABOURDETTE: Lauren.
FRAYER: Si, Diego.
EDUARDO SOUSA: (Speaking Spanish).
FRAYER: They're an odd couple. Eduardo is a jovial fifth-generation Spanish farmer. Diego is a soft-spoken academic, a migratory bird expert. And together they're in the foie gras business.
SOUSA: (Speaking Spanish).
FRAYER: The market for foie gras is incredible. France makes millions of kilos a year, Eduardo explains as we amble around his 1,200-acre goose farm. That's another world from what we do here. Most foie gras production uses gavage, a brutal practice in which tubes are forced down the geese's throats and their stomachs pumped with grain. Their livers grow 10 times bigger with large deposits of fat, which makes foie gras so rich.
Here, instead of being force fed, these are wild geese who fatten themselves up naturally. Diego explains.
LABOURDETTE: (Speaking Spanish).
FRAYER: The natural cycle for the wild goose of Europe is to migrate south to Africa each fall, he says. They stop here in Spain on their way to eat and gain energy for the long flight. They eat calorie-rich acorns, olives, figs and seeds and double their bodyweight in just a few weeks, then they're slaughtered before they can continue south. Feathers are plucked for goose down. Some of the meat is cured, and the goose livers are seasoned and boiled whole.
A bell rings in the farmhouse. It's time to try some.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
FRAYER: The farm's caretaker sings flamenco as we eat.
DOMINGO DIAZ ESCUDERO: (Singing in Spanish).
FRAYER: The food tastes faintly of all the wild herbs, olives and nuts the geese themselves have eaten.
ESCUDERO: (Speaking in Spanish).
FRAYER: Songs have the smell and flavor of the land they're from, just like our geese, says the caretaker-turned-singer Domingo Diaz Escudero. They're part of nature.
ESCUDERO: (Singing in Spanish).
FRAYER: A few years ago, this foie gras won the Coup de Coeur, a coveted French gastronomy award that caught the attention of a famous New York chef Dan Barber, who visited this farm and gave a TED Talk afterward.
(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)
DAN BARBER: I went to Spain a few months ago, and I had the best foie gras of my life, the best culinary experience of my life.
FRAYER: Barber's TED Talk went viral, and now there's a waiting list for this foie gras. A small jar costs more than $200. There's a website, but the only place you can buy in person is a tiny storefront near Eduardo's farm, where we meet a Spanish-American couple who've come all the way from San Francisco.
ALEGRA CABELLON: We just watched it on TED Talks, and then I made him stop here on the way to Madrid. I was really excited to see the product.
FRAYER: Alegra Cabellon takes a selfie with Eduardo and buys several jars of his foie gras. It's only sold in Europe, for now, but Eduardo is awaiting a certificate to sell it in the U.S. soon. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Badajoz, Spain.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.