Sex on toast: A tale of duck-liver mousse
Eating meat again has been a revelation for me.
Back story: As a teenager, I was a picky eater and an animal lover, therefore much repulsed by the blood and well, fleshy-ness of pretty much any meat except blameless, boneless chicken breasts. Around the age of 21 I declared virtuously that as long as I couldn't bear the thought of slaughtering the animal myself, it was not ethical to eat it. I became a semi-vegetarian, continuing to eat fish — just the small ones that i could imagine clubbing to death, with the guilty exception of tuna, for the convenience — and shellfish. And I was fine with that for more than 10 years, especially once I moved to the Bay Area and I stopped having to explain that "vegetarian" also meant "no chicken broth, please."
A few years ago, I became a born-again carnivore. (Long story. I eat only non-factory-raised animals unless I can't avoid it, like at someone's house.) I am consuming many tasty things for the first time, experiencing new heights of savory goodness and flavor. It's kind of like gaining a new taste bud, or being released from a convent. For example, in my past life I would never, ever go near organ meats, and could never enjoy foie gras knowing about the abuse involved in making it.
Fast forward to the duck-liver mousse from the Fatted Calf I had Saturday. Fatted Calf is an old-fashioned, artisanal charcuterie started in 2003 by Taylor Boetticher, who trained first at the meat counter at Cafe Rouge in Berkeley and then later apprenticed in Italy; he sells his small batches of traditionally made salumi only at the Saturday Berkeley and San Francisco farmers markets, although several restaurants feature them. We were planning just to buy breakfast sausage and a cured salami when Faux Gras (that's Mr. Dairy Queen) impulsively grabbed a little square white package of mousse, about the size of a pack of cards.
"It's $7!" I protested. "$15 a pound!"
"I'm buying," he said, scooping up our purchases. We bought a flat loaf of ciabatta-like bread from Morell's Bakery that Eduardo Morell himself said would be perfect for the mousse and went home to make breakfast. While we cooked we had the mousse as an appetizer on little rounds of toasted bread.
It was like sex on toast. Velvety on first bite, with the consistency of whipped butter on the tongue, very faint hints of almond and a delicately meaty flavor more like roast chicken than the gaminess I associate with duck. It was creamy without being super fatty, and it made me lightheaded with pleasure. And then I remembered it was unprotected sex I was having — I hadn't asked whether the ducks were force fed.
I ate it anyway.
We ran errands and did chores. Every few hours, we found ourselves circling back to the ever-diminishing loaf of bread and the smaller square of mousse. It actually survived to Sunday night dinner — that's how rich it was. I felt guilty but a little rebellious about it. I mean, I wanted to know how the duck was raised ... but I didn't want to stop eating the mousse. When it was all gone, I fretted for a while. Could I buy it again without knowing? No. Being an Ethicurean means facing up to the origins of your food — and then making an informed choice whether to buy it. Reluctantly, I e-mailed Fatted Calf and asked about the ducks (first praising the mousse so they didn't worry I was a PETA spy planning to fire-bomb the premises...my guess as to why they don't list their mailing address on the Internet.)
Here was the reply I got the next day:
You can serve our duck liver mousse with a free and easy conscience. All of our duck comes from Liberty Farms in Sonoma County. They are raised naturally, not caged and are not given growth hormones or antibiotics. These are not the kind of ducks that are raised for foie gras consumption.
[Cue the chorus of angels quacking sweetly.]
She attached a list of all their products, their ingredients, and the farms and ranches that they came from, saying Fatted Calf was redoing its website and planned to include all this information when it was finished. The meat suppliers ranged from Marin Sun Farms (the epitome of fine pastured beef and poultry, which I am so jonesing to visit their store in Point Reyes) to Nieman (which bears a bit more investigating — I heard their beef was corn-finished and I want to know more). I thought that was really cool of them.
Just goes to show, you can eat your duck liver mousse and feel good about it, too.
Addendum: Faux Gras wants people to know that even Ingrid Newkirk, the director of PETA, loves liver. From an interview with her:
If liver were somehow morally permissible, I asked her, would she eat it again? 'My God, I would eat it tomorrow. Now. I would eat roadkill if I could.'
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