Environmentalism is clashing with culinary tradition in France in the form of a small migratory songbird called the ortolan, which was designated an endangered species in Europe nine years ago. A big reason it’s endangered: the French like to eat it.
Though it sounds as disgusting to Americans as Tater Tots slathered in ketchup does to the French, whole roasted ortolans are considered a delicacy in France.
Traditionally, the birds are trapped and fattened up for a couple weeks. Then they are drowned in Armagnac brandy, plucked, roasted whole and served to discriminating (and, these days, well-heeled) diners, who down them bones and all (“satisfyingly crunchy, with a subtle hazelnut taste” is how some aficianados quoted in the Associated Press described them).
Because it is now illegal to trap, much less kill, ortolans, prices have soared. Reportedly, a single bird can set you back several hundred Euros. That’s led to a brisk black market trade in ortolans. An unholy alliance of wealthy gourmets and cultural traditionalists keep demand high while profiteers keep the supply up.
We guess word of “sustainable dining” has yet to make it to France...