Jews and Foie Gras


Foie gras is like fashion: one day it’s in, the next day it’s out. The state of California recently joined the list of places that have banned the production and sale of the gourmet favorite—which is made from the liver of a goose or duck that has been fattened up by force-feeding.

But is it kosher?

Yes, and it turns out it may have been medieval Jews who popularized it.

While evidence shows that ancient Romans prepared a food called iecur ficatum using force-fed geese, foie gras vanished from European cuisine after the fall of the Roman Empire. Yet because kosher laws prohibit the use of lard in cooking, and dairy butter was a no-go when preparing meat, poultry fat, or schmaltz, was a culinary must-have among Jews. One way to produce more schmaltz was to overfeed geese, and soon it was discovered that these fattened geese had particularly tasty livers. Thus, a new favorite Jewish food was born.

That said, some rabbis, including the Hungarian halakhic authority Moses Sofer did acknowledge the ethical concerns about cruelty to animals that plague lawmakers today (though they did ultimately rule that it was kosher). Foie gras has certainly fallen out of fashion in the current kosher scene, but that’s mostly because the process of kashering a liver is extremely labor-intensive.

However, it wouldn’t be totally impossible to stumble on a kosher foie gras dish. Just not in California.

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