Bábolna, established only 11 years ago during the country’s transition from communism, operates a big slaughterhouse at Békéscsaba in the Alföld region, where the geese are butchered and the livers extracted. The company sells its raw liver to France, Belgium and Japan. As part of an agreement among Hungarian goose liver companies, each producer has to respect a quota. However, as any OPEC minister will tell you, cartel quotas are made to be broken and some producers have undermined prices by exceeding their quotas. Czinder complained that the offending producers and the French-produced duck liver (15 times more plentiful than goose liver) have reduced industry-wide profits to a bare minimum.
Bábolna does not process its liver into pâté, but several Hungarian food companies do. A prominent marketer of exceptionally fine pâté is the restaurant established in 1894 by Károly Gundel, a legend among European gourmets. It languished under the communists. Its current manager, Kálmán Kozma, who worked there as a waiter in the 1970s, said it looked then like ‘an East German railroad station’. But, in 1991, after the country’s change of government, the great Hungarian gourmet chef, George Lang, joined with Ronald Lauder, son of cosmetic empress Estée Lauder, to buy Gundel. ) They lavished on the building treasures by Hungarian master painters and turned it into an elegant fin de siécle establishment. Lang, who had managed Café des Artistes in New York City, and Lauder both knew the value of the Gundel name and decided a brand extension was a profitable idea. They began by buying up vineyards in the famous Tokaj and Eger regions and putting the Gundel label on their own wines. To these they added a line of brandies—apricot, pear, and grappa—aged in oak
In 1995, they launched their own line of goose liver pâté. To break it out of the commodity category, they instructed the Gundel executive chef, Kalla Kálmán, to give it added value with special recipes. In one, he has added Tokaj wine; in another, he has smoked the liver using cherry wood. Aside from its menu offerings, Gundel sells its goose liver in tins of 150, 200, and 400 grams for retail consumption. Kálmán’s analysis of Gundel’s goose liver sales shows it to be not only popular, but also very profitable.
Ironically, very little of the Hungarian pâté finds its way to the plates of Hungarian consumers. Its prices—ranging to more than $41 for 400 grams—are beyond the budget of the average Hungarian. Nor is any Hungarian goose liver commercially imported into the United States. However, the prohibition does not apply to American tourists who purchase canned Hungarian goose liver and take it home Anything in cans or tins that has been heat-treated is exempt from the Agriculture Department’s prohibition and can be brought into the US. “Actually,” said Zsolt Kálmán, the commercial director for Gundel, “the American market is quite small, but could be developed, especially in the Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles areas.” On the other hand, said Kálmán, “The Japanese market is more promising. Even though the Japanese are not really acquainted with goose liver, they are inclined to experiment with new products.” He smiled and added, “Especially if they are expensive”.
Goose liver is not only expensive, but also high in cholesterol. Yet, in a possibly spurious scientific study, the French have alleged that goose liver pâté is not only delicious, which none would dispute, but also good for you. Dr. Serge Renaud, researcher with France’s National Institute of Health and Medical Research did a study in which he focused on the low incidence of heart disease in Toulouse where residents’ diets are high in food associated with a gourmand diet–bread, vegetables, fruit, cheese, and goose liver pâté. Dr. Renaud reported that the annual death rate from heart disease among men in Toulouse is 78 per 100,000, half the rate of men in Stanford, California, even though Stanford men have a lower cholesterol level. If you need a reason to eat goose liver, that should suffice.
Richard W Bruner is a journalist (and member of Slow Food), now based in Budapest.
Photo: www.photoart.gr/creative/ creative28.html
Traduzione di Valeria Ariemma