Call to forks! Hungarian foie gras needs your gulp

Mon Jun 8, 2009 12:31pm EDT
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By Gergely Szakacs

OROSHAZA, Hungary (Reuters Life!) - Gyorgy Habsburg is a distinguished aristocrat with a passion for foie gras.

Habsburg, grandson of Emperor Charles I, the last ruler of the Austro-Hungarian empire, is a patron of the first foie gras festival in the town of Oroshaza, the foie gras capital of central Europe, 200 km (125 miles) southeast of Budapest.

"I love foie gras," the 44-year-old Habsburg said. "It can come in any form, there are various ways of making it, but I like it in any old shape."

With annual production of about 1,700 tonnes, Hungary is one the world's top foie gras producers, with exports worth $89 million in 2007.

But with falling foreign orders amid protests from animal rights groups -- who say the process of force-feeding geese to produce the enlarged liver needed for foie gras is cruel -- producers say this key driver of gourmand tourism and one of the signature staples of Hungarian cuisine is now at risk.

That risk may be more than culinary types, like Norbert Hamusics, are able to palate.

"Foie gras is foie gras, there is no comparison," said Hamusics, 19, who cooks in one of Budapest's top restaurants.

There are over 50 ways of cooking it, in a risotto, wrapped in smoked bacon and served with spicy ratatouille, or marinated in sweet Tokaj wine and served in brioche with onion puree.   Continued...

<p>A cook dices raw foie gras in a kitchen during the first Hungarian foie gras festival in Oroshaza, 200 km (125 miles) southeast of Budapest, June 6, 2009. REUTERS/Karoly Arvai</p>