The Popularity of Christmas Geese in EnglandDecember 24, 2010
Most people in the US do not eat goose at Christmas. In England, however, fresh goose is a very popular Christmas treat. England has a population of 51 million and there are over forty farmers that commercially raise geese for Christmas sales. For the US to match that ratio, we would need over 240 goose farmers and I would wager there are fewer than 20 in the US that grow geese for the Christmas market!
Most of the geese in the UK are grown on pasture and sold as free range geese. After the first eight weeks, geese can be grown exclusively on green grass. Only at the end are they given all the grain they want. The two largest goose hatcheries in England are Norfolk Geese and Gulliver Poultry, though there are other, smaller hatcheries that supply day-old goslings, too. Though any goose can make a Christmas goose, it is normally the Embden breed that is used due to its large size and white feathers.
The UK has a British Goose Producers Association. This organization provides information to growers, promotional material for better marketing, an annual farm tour of a goose producer and helps coordinate sales among members. Their website has a wealth of information on the tradition of goose at Christmas, a list of members selling Christmas geese, and nutritional information on goose meat and fat. The US has no comparable goose association.
If you have an interest in growing geese for the local market, I encourage you to visit some of the websites of members of the British Goose Producers. See how they grow and market their birds to individuals, butcher shops, restaurants and grocery stores in the UK. It is a market that is just in its infancy in the US.
There are many recipes for goose. The common ingredient in all the recipes, however, is that the skin is pricked to allow the excess fat to drain out. Ducks and geese are genetically predisposed to have more fat under their skin than chickens and turkeys. The reason for this is they spend quite a bit of time in cold water and the advantages of fat are that 1) fat is a great insulator and 2) as it is lighter than meat and bone, it allows the bird to float easier in the water. But during cooking, with some slight pokes of the fork in the breast skin, the excess fat will drain out. But you want to save that fat!
Goose fat is a real delicacy in many cultures. There is even a UK website exclusively on the history, nutritional benefits and use of goose fat . Goose fat has a high burning (or smoke) point which means foods can be cooked at a high temperature without the fat burning or breaking down. It also has a lower proportion of saturated fatty acids compared to other animal fats such as butter and lard. The biggest selling point however is the unsurpassed taste of foods cooked using goose fat. It has traditionally been prized in Europe for frying and roasting vegetables.
Now it may be too late for you to rush out and get a Christmas goose in time for the 25th – but there is another holiday in a week that can be your excuse for a delicious goose dinner!