SFNYC Snail of Approval volunteer, Cristina Sciarra, traveled to France to discover wholesome farm animals. Cristina reflected on her visit and wrote an exclusive for SFNYC.
For three Christmases now, I've spent my holidays abroad, visiting my boyfriend's family on the western coast of France. My Noël now includes all of the trappings of a traditional French fête: very long lunches, not for the weak of spirit, and plenty of the foods France is famous for: foie gras, oysters, crépinettes, and of course, Champagne in impressive quantities.
Each year on Christmas Day, my mother-in-law serves roast goose, and each year I ask her to reveal the secret of how she prepares it. The bird she pulls from the oven is glistening and browned; the skin is in some places shatteringly crisp, in others chewy and flavor-concentrated, like exceptional jerky. The goose itself is deeply tasty; the meat tender almost to the point of confit.
In answer to my question, she always repeats the same brief formula: salt and pepper, roast it low and slow. She is the first to remind me that the real secret to the goose's perfection is the source.
This year, she took me to the farm to see for myself.
Husband and wife Nadie and Ludovic Remon own L'isle, a small farm in Angoulins-sur-Mer, France, where they raise a breed of cattle called Blonde d'Aquitaine. (Aquitaine is the southwest region of France that runs along the Atlantic Ocean from Bordeaux to the Spanish border.)
They keep about 100 cows at a time, some destined to be sold as veal, some as beef. The beef they sell is portioned into 10-kilo boxes, each containing various cuts of meat. Such is the quality of the beef that the whole stock is sold to customers who travel to the farm especially for it.
L'Isle's cows also often win prizes at agricultural fairs, both for their appearance and for their taste. The cows I saw in the barn, munching away on farm-grown hay, looked to me like picture-book cows: sturdy, clear-eyed, with smooth coats the color of milky coffee.
Nadie and Ludo also raise chickens, ducks, white and gray geese, guinea fowl, pigeons, and rabbits, all of which live in open, linked pens. The farm doesn't sell these animals, as they aren't licensed to do so, but they do eat the birds themselves. Lucky family friends also profit, which is how I've come to eat spectacular geese these last three Christmases, as well as plenty of late summer chickens.
All the animals at L'Isle eat only the grasses, hay, grains, and corn the farm grows itself, with not an additive in sight.
On the day I visited, a raft of ducks was busy splashing around in their concrete pool, while the pigeons cooed in their pen. Nadie and her husband Ludovic buy new chickens every spring, which feed on farm-grasses, and produce eggs from spring through late summer. After that, they are killed and eaten.
In the barn, a single goat bleated in his pen. When I asked after this goat, Nadie told me he had been a birthday present, although both she and Ludo would like to raise goats, and produce cheese, in the future.
It was clear to me as I visited the farm, and talked to Nadie, that the animals at L'Isle are particularly well cared for; they experience little stress, and have plenty of space to roam. It’s for these reasons I think the meat tastes so good, with so little adulteration.
As we were leaving the farm, I commented to Nadie that her animals seemed very happy to me.
In response, she smiled ruefully, "Oh, yes," she said. "They are very happy, right until the end!"
By CRISTINA SCIARRA