Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Tastiest Chickens and Other Poultry in France - The Volailles Fermières Label Rouge

Behind the French Menu
Bryan Newman

French chickens and other French  poultry hold the World Cup for taste.

Chapons Label Rouge de Challans
Capons from the commune of Challans in the department of Vendée,
 in the region of Pays de la Loire.

When a Frenchman or woman suggests you order chicken or other poultry in France they are doing it with a good reason.  France’s Label Rouge, red label poultry, have a totally different taste, “forget about it;” these chickens, capons, guinea hen, ducks and turkeys [i] taste like something!   No other country invests so much time in raising tasty free-range poultry,

France’s diners know all about the tasteless factory raised chickens and some 25% of the population have chosen to refuse those birds. The 25% who buy Label Rouge free-range chickens know they are paying more than twice the price of the other chickens in the supermarket.   Good restaurants only serve Label Rouge poultry and the very best serve the Volaille de Bresse AOP  which  has an even higher rating than the Label Rouge poultry.

The Label Rouge logo.

There are some 30 groups of farmers, from different parts of France, who raise Label Rouge poultry. These farmers co-operate to keep their brand and their unique and very tasty birds in the public eye and on the table. As soon as the birds are old enough they spend the whole day outside the poultry house in forests and/or pastures as free-range birds, except for a two-week period when they are allowed to be caged and fattened before going to market.  When outside in the fields or forests these birds have at least 5,000 square meters for no more than 500 birds. Included in the Label Rouge regulations are the instructions on how the birds are cared for and, at the end  there also is a taste test.  These are different breeds of chickens to those raised in factory farms and they take twice as long to grow before they are sold. Most of the farms allow the public to visit. Label Rouge poultry  are really free-range poultry.

On a French restaurant menu you may find:

Poulet Fermier Roti de Bourgogne Label Rouge, Servi Avec Gratin Dauphinois –  Roasted, farm-raised Label Rouge chicken from Burgundy, served with Dauphine potatoes. Dauphine potatoes are mashed potatoes mixed with choux pastry, shaped into balls or other shapes, breaded and deep-fried.

Suprême de Pintade Fermière d’Auvergne Label Rouge Crème d’Oignons de Gannat- Breast of Farm raised Label Rouge Guinea fowl from  the Auvergne , served with the a cream onion sauce from the onions of Gannat.  Gannat is a commune in department of  Allie in the Auvergene. Their highly rated  onions grown around Gannat are also called the Oignons Doux du Bourbonnais, the sweet onions of Bourbonais.

A Label Rouge Guinea[ii] hen from the department of Ardèche,
in the Rhône-Alpes
Gigolette de Poulet Label Rouge en Farce fine, Jus Corsé[iii] au Bergerac.   - The leg and thigh of a Label Rouge chicken prepared with a stuffing that includes chicken liver. The dish here is served with the natural cooking juices flavored with Bergerac wine.  A fine farce stuffing for poultry always includes chicken liver but the final recipe for the stuffing will vary with the chef.

The Label Rouge Chicken  from Loue.

Rôti de Chapon Label Rouge Coulis de Marrons [iv] au Grand Marnier – Roasted Label Rouge capon served with a purée  of chestnuts flavored with Grand Marnier, the orange flavored liquor. ( A capon is a  castrated cockerel, the USA rooster).

Volatile Fermière Label Rouge au Vin Jaune du Jura et Morilles[v]  Farm raised label rouge chicken  prepared with the yellow wine from the Jura and wild morel mushrooms. The sweet yellow wine from the Jura in the region of Franche-Comté  is one of the departments two most famous wines, the other is the Jura’s  Vin de Paille.
 Each group of Label Rouge  farmers comes from a different area of France.  The poultry they raise has continual inspections that allow the consumer to know how the birds are raised.  The consumer also knows what the birds are fed with and that growth hormones and antibiotics are never  used. The inspections make sure that their feed, except what they dig up themselves when outside contains no animal products. Their feed is 100% vegetable, except for some milk products which supplements what they find outside.  Many of the farmers raise the corn and other food products for the poultry themselves. 

Some farms raise organic poultry  and eggs and that adds the letters AB[vi] to their labels as well as increasing the price.  AB stands for Agriculture Biologique, Organic farming. Organic farming is government controlled, inspected and trusted.  

Oeufs de Loué AB
Organic eggs from  Loué  in the department of Sarthe
 in the region of Pays-de-la-Loire.

There is one chicken, one capon and one turkey that have reached higher standards than those offered by Label Rouge, these are the Volaille de Bress AOP, the poultry from Bresse AOP [vii].  These are most famous, tastiest, and expensive poultry  that may be  found in a French butchers shop or on a French menu. The poultry farmers of Bresse raise some unique chickens, capons and turkeys. You may find Label Rouge poultry on the menu at an upper scale butcher or restaurant in the UK but for any of  the poultry from Bresse you will have to come to France, very very little is exported,

The white feathered and blue legged Bresse AOP chicken.
 These birds are all raised in the old province of Bresse, the area today includes part of the départements of Jura in the Franche-Comte, Saône-et-Loire in Burgundy and Ain in the Rhone-Alps. 

 The AOP logo.
The Dinde de Bresse AOP; the Bresse turkeys  are not the largest  turkeys but they are the tastiest, . The Dinde de Bresse AOC are mostly seen on restaurant menus and in butcher’s shops for a short periods during the Easter and Christmas seasons.    They are sold when they weigh anywhere from 3 –5 kilos (5.5 -11lbs) for hens and up to 8 kilos  (17lbs) for turkey-cocks. These are the elite turkeys of France; the French gourmand’s choice for his or her Christmas dinner. If you want one you had better order it a few months in advance,
Bresse poultry may be on your menu:

Poulet de Bresse en Croûte de Pain d’Épices, Crème de Cassis et Bonbons  de Pommes de Terre  - A Bresse chicken baked inside  a covering of ginger bread and served with a black currant sauce and balls of mashed potatoes.

Chapon de Bresse AOP
Chapon de Bresse en Deux Cuissons, Lasagnes de Choux aux Châtaignes, Jus Truffé.[viii] (
The Bress capon cooked in two different ways and served with lasagna made with cabbage and chestnuts and flavored with truffle juice
Photograph courtesy of  Inspirational Food
Dinde Fermière de Bresse Rôtie Lentement, Farce de Châtaigne et Foie Gras, Légumes d’Antan au Jus – A Bresse turkey stuffed with chestnuts  and fattened duck liver, and served with vegetable from yesteryear. The vegetables of yesteryear are back in fashion and include turnips, parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes and more.
       The area of Bresse. 
Bresse is a wonderful place to visit with many beautiful villages and wonderful countryside.  If you plan your trip well, you will be crossing quite a few routes de vin, wine trails, and passing many restaurants where you may stop to enjoy these tasty birds.

To assist in the promotion of all these famous birds there is a Confrérie, a brotherhood and sisterhood, the Confrérie des Poulardiers de Bresse, The Brotherhood and sisterhood of the Poultry farmers of Bresse.  The 2,000 or so members, from all over France  and around the world bear the heavy responsibility of defending the freedom of our tables from tasteless copies.

If you are  going to be  in the area  of Bresse in  mid- December, check ahead and see which towns are having special events at the dinner table.  This is when the Confrérie,have competitions for the best poultry and, of course, turkeys in the towns of Bourg-en-Bresse, Pont-de-Vaux and Montrevel-en-Bresse in the département of Ain and in the town of Louhans-Chateaurenard, Saône-et-Loire in Burgundy. 

Bryan G Newman
Behind the French Menu.
Copyright 2010, 2014.

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman