Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The Landes Maize Fed Chicken

The Landes is renowned for its chicken - the secret behind its poultry is the special feed and a special race of chickens. The free range chickens live of 70-80 % whole Maize seeds giving the yellow colour to the meat. The birds have a stronger taste of chicken and are very tender and juicy. Chicken has been bred here since the Spaniards introduced it in the 8th century and Maize was introduced to France by Gonzalo de Hernani Percazteguy who travelled with Christopher Columbus to Central America in 1492.

The Gallic Rooster, or cockerel, is the unofficial French national emblem, as symbolic as the stylised French Lily. From the very roots of French history, the Latin word Gallus means both "rooster" and "inhabitant of Gaul". The French rooster emblem adorned the French flag during the revolution. With the success of the Revolution in 1848, the rooster was made part of the seal of the Republic. In 1899, it was embossed on a more widespread device, the French 20 franc gold coins.

The French have always loved chicken as a dish - at the end of the 16th century, King Henri IV is supposed to have said "If God allows me to live, I will see that there is not a single labourer in my kingdom who does not have a chicken in his pot every Sunday" and in the 19th century gastronomic writer Brillat Savarin said, in The physiology of taste: "the fowl is to the kitchen what the canvas is to painters. To charlatans it is the cap of Fortunatus, and is served up boiled, roasted, fried, hot, cold, whole or dismembered, with or without sauce, broiled, stuffed, and always with equal success".

The Landes Chicken is part of the Label Rouge program which began in France in the 60s as a grass roots movement led by farmers there. After the Second World War, as poultry became more industrialized, demand grew in France for the taste of traditionally raised farm chickens. The Label Rouge program focuses on high quality products, mainly meat, with poultry making up most of the products. It emphasizes quality attributes such as taste, culinary qualities, free range production, and food safety. The average consumer can note a positive difference in taste between Label Rouge poultry and industrial poultry - in fact, regular taste-testing is a certification requirement to prove that these products are "vividly distinguishable" from conventional poultry.

The main reason for the superior taste is the use of slow-growing birds instead of the fast-growing birds used for industrial production. The slow-growing birds are from old rustic genetic stocks and are grown longer than industrial birds before they are processed. There are a range of breeds used – around 46 – coming from crosses of old regional breeds.

Landes poultry are still known for being raised in the pine forest, using small portable housing called “Marensines.” George Berbille invented the portable Marensine system and is considered the father of range poultry production in France. In a dense forest, the smaller houses are used to fit between the trees. The houses have knobs where wheels can be attached and are towed by tractor. They are sometimes placed beside cornfields so that birds can benefit from shade and forage for insects.

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