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Sarlat: Foie Gras and Force-Fed Geese

Sarlat, France
Contains mature topics

Sarlat, a pleasant home base for the Dordogne region, is known for its luscious open-air market, which sells regional products, including foie gras (goose-liver pâté). Visit a farm to see how geese are force-fed to produce this sought-after specialty.

Complete Video Script

Nearby, Sarlat is the pedestrian-friendly main town of the river valley. It's just the right size — large enough to have a cinema with four screens, but small enough so that everything is an easy meander from the town center. It's the handiest home base for exploring the Dordogne.

There are no blockbuster sights here. Still, it's an inviting tangle of traffic-free cobblestone lanes and handsome buildings, lined with foie gras shops (geese just hate Sarlat), and — in the summer — stuffed with tourists.

Sarlat's elaborate stonework recalls its glory century was from about 1450 to 1550, after the Hundred Years' War. Loyal to the French cause — through thick and thin and a century of war — Sarlat was rewarded by the French king, who gave lots of money to rebuild the town in stone.

Sarlat's new nobility built noble homes to match. The town’s most impressive buildings date from this prosperous era, when the Renaissance style was in vogue.

It's Market Day and the city is jammed as it has been for centuries of Saturdays. Everything's fresh and local — so seasonal that shoppers can tell the month by what's on sale.

Steve: This has been going on for 1,000 years almost, since the Middle Ages.
Rick: What’s this region known for?
Steve: Well the Dordogne is famous for three things: walnuts, cakes and nuts and…
Rick: So, this is walnuts…
Steve: That’s the walnut table. Truffles which are a mushroom, you’ll find only fresh in the winter, so you won’t see it in the market today. And the biggie, what people come to this area for, foie gras, which is the luxurious liver of force-fed geese and ducks. In fact, people come to this area more I think for that than they do the famous caves or the castles or the river. That’s kind of the raison d’etre of the area, from a culinary perspective.

Rick: …try some, goose liver okay.
Steve: Which one is best?
Vendor: The best is just one piece of duck liver or goose liver one piece.
Steve: So, it’s pure? Just that.
Rick: Wow, that’s good.
Steve: Hmm, let’s taste the difference. This should be stronger right?
Vendor: Voila. Duck is different. Duck is a strong, goose is a sweet.
Steve: Yeah, that’s a good description. One strong, one sweet. Do you notice the difference?
Rick: Um hum, um hum.

This "Square of the Geese" is a reminder that birds are serious business here and have been since the Middle Ages. Many question the morality of force feeding geese to make the foie gras. To learn more about this, we are heading into the countryside to actually visit a goose farm.

For generations, the Mazet family has raised geese right here. Nathalie — clearly in love with the country life — enthusiastically shows guests around her idyllic farm. Each evening, she leads a family-friendly tour explaining the age-old tradition of la gavage… force feeding the geese to fatten their livers to make the much-loved goose liver pate… or foie gras.

Nathalie: In the fall we have 1,000 geese each year. And this one are six weeks old. And during the day they are outside, and they come back inside during the night. A goose cannot stay in a small box. She will die. She need to walk, she need to eat grass. These birds are migrating and before doing the migration they eat a lot. They make foie gras. They stalk energy on the liver to be able to fly
Rick: So, it’s their natural gas tank.
Nathalie: It’s the natural way to stalk energy, yeah.

Nathalie explains why locals see the force-feeding as humane (the same as raising any other animal for human consumption). French enthusiasts of la gavage say the animals are calm, in no pain, and are designed to gorge naturally. Dordogne geese live lives at least as comfy as other farm animals that many people have no problem eating, and they are slaughtered as humanely as any non-human can expect in this food-chain existence.

Rick: Does this not hurt the geese to put the tube down?
Nathalie: No, no. The tube can go very easily on the top of the stomach because a goose naturally can eat big stone or a big corn on a cob.
Rick: A goose can eat a corn on a cob?
Nathalie: Yes. So, the tube is not very big for a goose. To have good foie gras the geese must have good life outside or in during the force feeding.

The region's cuisine is a big draw here. We're dropping by a favorite restaurant of Steve's to enjoy the local specialties. Gourmet eaters flock to this region for its goose, duck, pates, white asparagus, and more.

Waitress: (In French).
Rick: Okay. Thank you, merci. You’re going to have to help me. What are, these are three different foie gras, right?
Steve: Welcome to the Dordogne. Alright, you’ve got three different foie gras here. This one’s confi, which is foie gras cooked in its own fat. The middle one, they call it confi au docheax, which means cooked with like a veil of chiffon around it and the third one is a straight foie gras.
Rick: You know, I can taste a difference. There’s a clear difference. I like this very much.