foie gras, cheese and customs

According to a number of studies, foie gras and cheese are the 2 products that French-food lovers crave and miss most.  However, unlike wine and certain other French specialties, getting your hands on good foie gras and traditionally prepared French cheeses can be a difficult task.  Unfortunately, there is not always an alternative choice to paying astronomical prices for product often made industrially rather than traditionally by small-scale artisans 

Within the European Union, products are traded freely without any restrictions or customs barriers.  So anyone living in England, Germany or any of the other 28 EU countries can buy foie gras without a thought about what customs officials may say.  Never will you pay any customs fees and there is no risk of your products being blocked.

Outside of this free-trade area, difficulties finding foie gras and French cheeses at a reasonable price may be explained in part by distance and challenges met trying to clear customs. 

Customs: Committed to ensuring Public Health 

Customs administrations aim to stop any food items potentially unfit for human consumption and liable to negatively impact the health of the public from entering their territory. It is impossible to compile a full list of each country’s food bans and regulations. Many health standards, as well as cultural, economical and political principles must be taken into account in order to understand customs officials and it can be hard to decipher any logic at times. 

Just let us consider 2 things. 

Sterilizing products greatly limits any risk of problems with customs 

Any raw product is more likely to be a problem since bacteria could potentially develop in it. This is the most common accusation regarding raw-milk cheeses.  However, if a product has been cooked at high temperatures, sterilized, any possibly “risky” components have been removed and this procedure, in many cases, has no effect on flavor.  

Products that should be kept in a refrigerator are more likely to be confiscated by customs officials

A product requiring to be kept cool may become unfit for consumption if the cold chain is not maintained.  The product can indeed “go bad” and could be dangerous if consumed.  

Foie Gras and Customs 

There are 3 different kinds of foie gras: fresh foie gras (foie gras frais) that requires pan-frying, semi-cooked foie gras (foie gras mi-cuit) that is pasteurized at roughly 85°C and requires to be kept between 0 and 4°C, and preserved or canned foie gras (foie gras en conserve) which is the most traditional foie gras recipe and is sterilized at 110°C.  There is no need to keep canned foie gras in the refrigerator.

Canned foie gras can stay in direct sunlight on the airport tarmac for hours on end without being damaged. The fat around the foie gras would melt, but that would not make it dangerous nor would it have any effect on the quality of the foie gras.  2 hours in the refrigerator before serving and your foie gras would be at its very best.

Some food aficionados prefer pan-fried foie gras, others favor semi-cooked foie gras and more still rave over canned foie gras.  Some will love it in all forms as long as the foie gras itself is good.  What is most important is the quality of duck or goose foie gras no matter if it is raw, semi-cooked or canned. 

To customs officials, these gustatory qualities are of no importance.  Only sterilized and canned foie gras not requiring refrigeration is considered inoffensive, as explained in this official document published by the Australian Customs and Border Protection and in these articles (in French) from FrenchMorning and France-Amérique, two newspapers destined to French natives living in the USA.

If you are transporting foie gras on a flight, keep these arguments in mind in case you need to explain them to a customs worker.  If you are sending foie gras via postal operators or integrators  or if you are ordering it online, it is very important to ensure the customs declaration has been properly filled out, most notably with the product customs code (1602.20 for foie gras). 

Cheese and Customs 

Since most artisan cheeses are made of raw milk and require refrigeration, clearing customs with French cheese is quite frankly not easy. A number of arguments plead in favor of severity on the part of customs officials though it seems a shame. We may appeal, quite rightly, that millions of French people eat these cheeses on a daily basis without any consequences on their health. 

It is all the more infuriating when you know that certain French cheese varieties keep better and longer than others.  For example, most pressed, cooked or veined cheeses keep better than soft bloomy-rind or rind-washed cheeses.  And against all expectations, even cheese varieties such as Brie, Camembert, Neufchatel, Livarot, Pont-L’Evêque, Munster and Epoisse can be easily kept for two or three days without refrigeration, ideally leaving them in the original packaging and wrapping them in a damp cloth.  

But how could we explain that to customs officials or expect them to known all 360 varieties of cheese produced in France?

All we can do is warn you that your cheese may get stuck at the customs desk. The thing about customs workers, and this is true in every country, is that it is never easy to debate with them when your goods get (rightly or wrongly) blocked. 

That is the very reason why we decided to stop shipping to China, where regulations appear to pose no problem at all but where, half the time and for no apparent reason, foie gras gets stuck at customs.  

What about Customs Fees 

Clearing customs is one thing but, depending on the country of destination outside of the European Union, more or less substantial customs fees (plus VAT) may apply and are to be claimed upon delivery.  You can request information from the customs authorities of the destination country or contact us and we will be pleased to be of service.   

The cost of tax collection is rather high, so do remember that many countries do not apply taxes to products below a certain limit (no VAT or customs taxes in the USA on orders under 800 USD, 1000 AUD for Australia (New Zealand has a more complicated way of calculating but is similar), 500 AED for Dubai, 400 SGD for Singapore…. 

And other countries like Hong Kong apply no taxes whatsoever.

In any case, there is no reason, in today’s society, to deprive yourself of foie gras just because you do not live in France.  Place your trust in Foie Gras Gourmet, who provides excellent canned foie gras (Concours Agricole de Paris 2015, 2017, 2019, 2020 Medal winners) and delivery with experts who know everything there is to know about customs.  

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