It is the French delicacy par excellence, but increasingly targeted by animal welfare activists: can foie gras from duck cells find its place at the table for lovers of gastronomy?
This is the goal of Gourmey, a Parisian company which has raised 10 million dollars (8.5 million euros) from European and American investors this month to perfect its recipe for making fatty duck liver. in laboratory.
“There is a very strong need for an alternative to ordinary foie gras, a controversial product that must reinvent itself,” said Nicolas Morin-Forest, one of the three founders of Gourmey.
“We want to show that cultured meat is not just limited to burgers but can also be used for gourmet products,” he said.
Duck livers, a specialty of southwestern France in particular, are popular either alone – starred chef Alain Ducasse has served it pan-fried with braised pears – or cooked in a velvety foie gras pâté.
It is obtained by force-feeding ducks with a tube stuck in their throats, a practice criticized by critics as unnecessarily cruel and painful for the animals.
California has banned the sale of foie gras for years, and New York is planning to do so next year.
Britain has banned the production of foie gras and is considering a ban on its sale, while lawmakers in the European Parliament last month proposed to ban the forced feeding of ducks or geese, another source of foie gras.
Mass meat production is also in the crosshairs of environmental activists who say the industry consumes too much water and energy while producing huge amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas.
“With over 9.5 billion humans on the planet in 2050, we will need to produce a lot more meat – conventional models that require significant resources will not be enough,” said Morin-Forest.
– “90 percent over there” –
Installed in a university research laboratory, Gourmey has spent the last two years developing his process for false livers capable of passing the course of chefs and cooking enthusiasts.
Its founders are Antoine Davydoff, cell biologist, and Victor Sayous, doctoral student in molecular biology, and they now have around twenty employees.
“In terms of taste and texture, 90% of us are there,” said Sayous, from the heart of foie gras in southwest France.
“Last Christmas, I served it to my family on toast, alongside the traditional foie gras, without telling them. Some were amazed and hadn’t noticed the difference, ”he said.
Their recipe begins by taking cells from the fertilized duck egg and placing them in an aluminum “cultivator” where they swim in a nutrient solution maintained at 37 degrees Celsius (99 Fahrenheit).
# photo1 As cells divide and multiply, their “nourishment” is adjusted to promote the growth of liver cells which are ready after two to three weeks.
A little vegetable fat is then added to achieve the creamy consistency, and chefs have stepped in to refine the results.
“It took us over 600 attempts. Several times a week, we taste different formulas, and we end up with a fairly correct recipe, even if it is not yet perfect, ”said Morin-Forest.
– Will it fly? –
With its latest fundraising, Gourmey will move to a 1,000 square meter (nearly 11,000 square foot) facility in central Paris aimed at proving the viability of large-scale production to investors.
The start-up also aims to cut costs and plans to embark on the production of chicken, turkey and duck meat.
But first, its foie gras will need to be certified by health officials – so far only Singapore has approved lab-grown meat, for chicken nuggets made by an American company.
As a first step, Gourmey will seek to market its livers in the United States and in Asia, “where there is both a clear need and a more advanced regulatory climate,” said Morin-Forest.
# photo2Closer to us, requests will be assessed by the European Food Safety Authority.
But winning the officials could prove tricky.
“Count on me, in France meat will always be natural and never artificial!” Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie tweeted last December.
© 2021 AFP