I knew the foie gras was coming 'round when there were no more geese padding about on his land.
All year long I watch these fowl friends, moving herdlike from the water to the mud to the shelter on Laurent Callebaut's property. Monsieur Callebaut is a master goose-raiser who oversees a gaggle of 1,000 oies, taking them from egg to table. His farm is right across the Route Nationale 12, and I pass it each weekend as I enter and exit my little village. Christmas is a busy time for him, selling his wares out of a little cabana right next to his house. Inside are shelves of foie gras cuit, goose rillettes, goose pâtés and other wonderful derivatives of all things geese.
The for-and-against controversy surrounding the production and the consumption of foie gras notwithstanding (and I can soundly defend either side of the coin); it comes down to this: Foie gras is a cultural artifact on France's Christmas table. Whether you buy it at Aldi (low-cost) or Fauchon (pricey), this addition to the traditional menu is an expected component, opening the meal and setting the stage for the second act (smoked salmon and blinis). There are those Master Chefs who will trick it out-- recent embellishments include a lightly-fried slice 0f gingerbread upon which will rest the gloriously unctuous sliver of liver. Others might layer a spoonful of spicy Christmas chutney on top of the fatty spread, with a sprinkle of fleur de sel to set off that splendid savory-sweet note. But there are always the Traditionalists, those who keep the toaster right at the table so they can catch the plain baguette as it pops out, ready to be the warm bed upon which the foie gras will rest (and melt).
The absence of those fat and happy geese running around like crazy toddlers did make me a little sad when I passed by Monsieur Callebaut's farm earlier this month. But the promise of his delicate foie gras adorning my holiday table helped me override my moment of emotion. Joyeuses fêtes, tout le monde.