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The Daily Star
THURSDAY, 24 APR 2014
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The Mideast’s mountaintop duck farm
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OURA, Lebanon: On a mountain peak half an hour’s drive from Batroun perches an old stone monastery, a simple building commanding views out over the stunning vista of forested mountainsides, shaded valleys and snow-capped peaks that surround it on all sides. It is here, 1,000 meters above sea level and far from the smog and noise of the city, that visitors will find Lebanon’s only duck farm.Known today as a quintessentially French delicacy, the roots of the gavage feeding technique used to create foie gras, fattened duck or goose liver, are actually far closer to home. The ancient Egyptians began rearing poultry for food as far back as 2500 B.C., force-feeding birds corn to fatten them up. Today, a small farm in Lebanon produces the delicacy locally, using ducks imported twice annually from France.

La Ferme St. Jacques, named for the nearby St. Jacques Monastery, opened 10 years ago and was originally conceived as a way of diversifying local agricultural production.

“The owners are the Younes [family],” explains marketing and sales manager Jihane Feghali, “who began this project as a social project to keep the people in their villages [employed], because Batroun is a dry region, so you only have olive trees ... The farm activities go from breeding to rearing to slaughtering to processing, packing and distribution, locally and abroad. We’re in the Middle East region in Dubai, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan and soon in Iraq and Egypt, we hope.”

Each year the farm flies in 1,100 ducklings from France, 900 of them Pekin females and 200 Muscovy males. These are bred to create a hybrid, known as the Mulard duck, which is used to create foie gras.

When The Daily Star visited the farm one of two biannual duckling shipments had just arrived, and more than 400 little chicks, covered with fine yellow down, were running hither and thither, filling the interior of the light and heat-regulated barn they inhabit with their delicate piping calls.

Guitta Yaacoub, the farm’s agro-engineer, explains that these ducks are used solely for breeding, and will eventually be sold for meat. It is the male Mulard ducks, hatched in batches of hundreds every two weeks, that produce the foie gras for which the farm is known.

The ducks are divided into groups according their ages and placed in outdoor enclosures on the mountaintop, free to roam where they will. Living on the only duck farm in Lebanon, Yaacoub explains, the birds don’t need to be vaccinated and are reared in the tradition of family farms in France.

“They only eat grains: corn, soya and wheat bran,” Feghali says, “and they don’t take antibiotics, no vaccinations, nothing at all.”

The farm has its own boutique in Ashrafieh, where Beirutis can find buy whole foie gras, infused with a delicate flavor and a rich, buttery texture, along with a range of other products.

“Duck liver is our main production,” Feghali says. “We are here to produce foie gras, but also duck breast, duck leg confit, smoked sliced duck breast. We sell the duck from head to toe.”

As well as the foie gras, which can be purchased whole or sliced, the products produced by the small farm include whole ducks ready to be cooked, as well as raw legs and breast.

They also produce duck sausages, sell duck fat, gizzards and heart and jars of duck rillettes, as well as ready-to-eat products such as smoked duck breast, jars of paté, and even a duck cassoulet, ready to be heated and consumed.

The farm’s website includes a variety of recipes for duck-based dishes, among them smoked duck breast salad and duck legs cooked with apples.

La Ferme St. Jacques’ boutique is located in Ashrafieh, on the intersection of Lebanon Street and Ghandour Saad Street. For more information please

visit www.lafermestjacques.com.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 27, 2014, on page 2.
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Story Summary
Today, a small farm in Lebanon produces the delicacy locally, using ducks imported twice annually from France.

Each year the farm flies in 1,100 ducklings from France, 900 of them Pekin females and 200 Muscovy males. These are bred to create a hybrid, known as the Mulard duck, which is used to create foie gras.

Guitta Yaacoub, the farm's agro-engineer, explains that these ducks are used solely for breeding, and will eventually be sold for meat.

As well as the foie gras, which can be purchased whole or sliced, the products produced by the small farm include whole ducks ready to be cooked, as well as raw legs and breast.
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