In France, foie gras is available everywhere, all year round. I remember my American friends being surprised to find foie gras in highway gas stations, and no matter how many times I told them that it was bland, mass-produced foie gras, they were amazed to find there a luxury product next to bottles of champagne (also of very standard quality and at an inflated price).
Put simply, there is foie gras and there is foie gras, and choosing where to purchase this exceptional delicacy is important:
Hypermarkets have democratized the product, making it accessible to the French middle class for special occasions.
In doing so they have also driven down prices and quality, forcing companies to produce in industrial quantities using the same techniques as in other agri-food sectors: mass production, animals crammed into gigantic sheds and artisanal know-how replaced by unskilled workers with little mastery of a precise and demanding manufacturing process.
Supermarkets often offer a range of products, from the cheap foie gras often made in Central Europe to more expensive and better-quality foie gras.
However, just as is the case with excellent sweet white wines like a Sauternes or black truffles from the Périgord, it is rare that one finds the best products in a supermarket.
In butchers and delicatessens
The brands of foie gras sold in a butcher’s shop or a delicatessen are a very reliable indicator of the quality on offer. Familiarity with the brands available will help with understanding whether the products on offer have been supplied directly by a quality producer in the south-west of France or whether they have been purchased from a large wholesaler such as Metro, Carrefour or Costco.
Recognizing the brands which represent quality (and, indeed, respect of animal welfare standards), is helpful in deciding whether to purchase foie gras from the merchant or pass it by.
Sadly, good surprises are rare although, fortunately, they do still exist. Some serious independent retailers offer quality foie gras which they have sourced from a local artisan. You will pay a little more for foie gras from a butcher, so ensure that if you do purchase it is a good one!
At the markets of the South West
Here, nasty surprises are very rare! Good merchants don't like merchants who they see as abusing tourists by offering them poor quality products, such as implying products are from the South West when they have been produced in another country.
You should be aware that in France, we don't really use the notion of grade or quality (Grade A is the best quality, B is an average quality and C is a standard quality) in the context of foie gras. This is because no customer would want to buy a foie gras that is anything less than Grade A, even if it is intended for simply making a sauce to serve on meat or pasta.
If you visit the South West, be patient and choose the merchants where the wait is longest. They will generally have the best products.
So, if you are in France, put some foie gras in your suitcase (it obviously depends on the country, but many customs officers will be lenient and will not give you any problems if the quantities are reasonable).
In conclusion, buying a good quality foie gras is not straightforward! However, the internet can help you to identify the best product to purchase.
Better still, look for the IGP or Label Rouge labels, as well as at which medals and awards have been won by the foie gras producer. These are incredibly reliable indicators. Avoid foie gras containing colorants or preservatives. And of course, beware merchants with low prices. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is!
And if you don't want to take any risks, you can buy the best foie gras at the best price by choosing a foie gras at Foie Gras Gourmet which sources from a selection of the very best producers in the South West. The hampers allow you to sample different foie gras at an even better price.