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Eat and Drink

LaBelle Farms makes New York's foie gras upstate

It's all about the ducks.

At LaBelle Farms in Sullivan County, a three-hour drive from New York City, the thousands of ducks quacking around the property would probably agree.

As one of the nation's two foie gras producers (Hudson Valley Foie Gras is their only American competitor), LaBelle takes their duck production seriously, despite ongoing criticism of the decadent French appetizer.

"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion," said Bob Ambrose, a minority partner of LaBelle Farms and their retail shop, Bella Bella Gourmet. "What we’re doing is something that has been done for thousands of years." The upstate farm has been run for 16 years by brothers Hector and Nelson Saravia, who founded LaBelle in 1999.

Ambrose, who has worked with the Saravias since 2004 stated that he "very much" thinks that foie gras is an ethical food to eat, despite controversy regarding the force-feeding process a foie gras bird must undergo in its last few weeks before slaughter. "We’re very proud what we do and of how we do it," he said.

"Ducks do it in nature, they gorge themselves," Ambrose explained. "A duck is set up very differently from you and I. You can see a picture of a duck eating a whole fish on the Internet -- its stomach is made to hold food and expand and contract."

LaBelle breeds and raises its own ducks, all inside shelters to protect ducks from migrating bird flu. Ducklings and larger ducks are free to roam and quack around, until they're sent off to a second production center where they're fed 28 pounds of feed in three weeks, to fatten them up for foie gras.

Though LaBelle is known for its foie gras, the farm uses each and every part of the duck, from the gizzards to the testicles to the carcass.

Welcome to LaBelle Farms!

We visited the 43-acre Sullivan County farm in
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

We visited the 43-acre Sullivan County farm in late October, when the trees were just turning and the ducks were, well, quacking. Take a look around!

La Belle Farms is dedicated to cage-free foie gras.

Ducklings and ducks are kept inside, to prevent
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

Ducklings and ducks are kept inside, to prevent exposure to outside diseases from migrating birds, but they are free to walk around within the pens.

Meet the Foie Gras Class of 2015.

Baby ducklings, a few days to a few
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

Baby ducklings, a few days to a few weeks old, are separated from their older counterparts. Here, the fuzzy birds can eat, drink and walk around freely. Unlike most meats, foie gras is made from male birds, rather than female (think chickens). LaBelle farms exports their female ducks to Trinidad, where Ambrose says, "They love the flavor of the Moulard."

LaBelle farms keeps its ducks hormone and antibiotic free.

Ducks are fed a mix of corn that
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

Ducks are fed a mix of corn that is grown and milled nearby.

The life cycle of a foie gras duck is pretty short.

At twelve weeks old, the ducks are ready
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

At twelve weeks old, the ducks are ready for hand-feeding, which fattens up the liver and is the most controversial practice in foie gras farming.

LaBelle Farms moves the ducks off-site for their hand-feeding.

Here, the duck is fed 28 pounds of
Photo Credit: LaBelle Farms

Here, the duck is fed 28 pounds of feed in three weeks.

LaBelle uses a small, flexible hand feeding tube.

In 2010, LaBella shied away from the traditional
Photo Credit: LaBelle Farms

In 2010, LaBella shied away from the traditional metal feeding tube and instilled a new practice of using an apparatus that is more comfortable and gentle with the ducks.

The duck is slaughtered and air-chilled at a separate USDA-certified facility.

After hand feeding is complete, the ducks are
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

After hand feeding is complete, the ducks are processed off-site. The liver is then extracted to reveal a Grade A or B foie gras, which is based on the size. Ducks, like the one pictured, are sold whole or split up into breasts, legs and more pieces into which confit, prosciutto and plenty more dishes are made.

Bella Bella Gourmet uses every part of the duck.

And we mean every part. Here, Jamie Bissonnette
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

And we mean every part. Here, Jamie Bissonnette grills duck carcass to enjoy the very last bits of meat. LaBelle's duck can be found in the kitchens of New York City restaurants including Toro, The Modern, Gabriel Kreuther, Vaucluse and many more.

The finished duck carcass rivals your favorite BBQ...

Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

"Chefs are taking the testicles, the hearts, duck neck, gizzards -- they're all becoming popular," said Ambrose, when talking about how each and every part of the bird is used. Skin is also a popular edible. "We can't produce enough skin!" he said. Rendered duck fat is sold through Bella Bella Gourmet for cooking -- duck fat fries! -- and duck bones are used by New York chefs to make stocks.

And don't forget the duck necks!

Chef Bissonnette cooked up some duck necks to
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

Chef Bissonnette cooked up some duck necks to use in paella.

Foie doesn't always mean terrine.

Many think foie is all about that spreadable
Photo Credit: LaBelle Farms

Many think foie is all about that spreadable French pate, but a whole duck liver, pictured, can be grilled and prepared in several different ways depending on your palate.

If cooking or even eating foie gras isn't your thing, consider a foie bratwurst.

Made with pork and foie gras, this bratwurst
Photo Credit: Bella Bella Gourmet

Made with pork and foie gras, this bratwurst is a good entry into the world of foie gras. Jamie Bissonnette suggests poaching them in beer or basque cider and serving them on a roll or hot dog bun with kimchi and mustard. Order them at bellabellagourmet.com

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