Adventures from Duck University (Not to be confused with Duke University)

Duck is not typically a go-to, everyday food that people eat. In fact, most people don’t even think about duck as an option, except for the holidays. This all changed for me when I attended Duck University for food bloggers, sponsored by Maple Leaf Farms in Indiana. I was excited about this opportunity because I knew very little about duck, and had certainly never cooked it.

Me outside of the Maple Leaf Farms HQ - About to head in for class!

Me outside of the Maple Leaf Farms HQ – About to head in for class!

This experience was set up like a real university. The first stop was a tour of the feed mill, where we saw how they make duck feed from scratch. They take incredible care of what goes into the feed, including protein, vitamins and minerals so that the ducks can be healthy and strong. They go through rigorous testing to make sure that the  feed is safe for the ducks.

Duck Feed - Full of vitamins and minerals

Duck Feed – Full of vitamins and minerals

We then visited a duck farm where the ducks were raised. Biosecurity is a major initiative for food safety and disease prevention, so we were instructed to wear special suits and dip our feet into a foot bath before walking near the ducks.

Dressed in our Biosecurity suits

Dressed in our Biosecurity suits

The conditions are clean, and the ducks have plenty of room to frolic about. Maple Leaf Farms partners with over 150 local farmers to raise their ducks, which is great for the communities. The last stop on the tour was the duck processing plant, where they say it is as clean as a hospital. It was reassuring to see the USDA inspectors right there on the line.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Afterwards, we had a classroom-style session.

Did you know….

–        Duck Fat is a good fat – It compares favorably to olive oil in terms of the mono-unsaturated fatty acid oleic, and the poly-unsaturated fatty acids linoleic and linolenic acids

–        There are various breeds of duck with different flavor profiles. Maple Leaf Farms raises the White Pekin duck, which is more mild and less gamey than some of the other duck varieties.

–        Maple Leaf Farms is the #1 producer of duck in the U.S. with about a 75% market share, producing 13-15 Million ducks annually? (They are like Tyson Chicken, but for Duck)

–        Duck is a red meat – It has a different muscle structure than chicken, and it is cooked more like steak vs. chicken. It’s not prone to salmonella, so it can be cooked to medium/medium rare for the best flavor and texture.

My favorite part of the evening was the 5-course duck dinner, where every course had duck, including the dessert (with Duck Bacon). I told chef Dale Miller that I could die right then and be happy, because the food was so creative and tasted AMAZING!

The menu:

 

 

A lot of people have had bad experiences with duck in the past, saying that it has tasted oily or gamey, but I did not have this experience at all – the flavor is mild, and I did not have any oily aftertaste from anything I ate. It truly depends on the breed of duck, and how it is prepared.

Celebrity Chef Sara Moulton (from Sara’s Weeknight Meals on PBS) also gave a cooking demo on how to cook duck breast, which was much easier than I had originally thought. It really is as simple as scoring the breast, cooking it with the skin down, flipping it over, and cooking it to the desired temperature. It needs to be a little bit pink for the best dining experience. Sara joined us on our tours, and it was fun to hang out with her – she’s very smart and talented, and we were honored to have her accompany us.

Me and Celebrity Chef Sara Moulton

Me and Celebrity Chef Sara Moulton

Celebrity Chef Sara Moulton providing a cooking demo on how to cook duck breast.

Celebrity Chef Sara Moulton providing a cooking demo on how to cook duck breast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to this amazing experience, I was able to network with about 19 amazing food bloggers that were inspiring and a boatload of fun!

Now that you are a little bit more familiar with duck, I would highly encourage you to experiment with it. The easiest way is to try some of the pre-cooked products, like the appetizers (potstickers, spring rolls, quesadillas), or the roast half duck. Then you could move to cooking some of the other items on your own, like the duck breast, and if you are ready for the big leagues, you can roast a whole duck. If you can’t find the products in the store, you can always order online http://mapleleaffarms.com/shop and they will ship it on dry ice to your house, or you can ask the meat department manager to order it in for you.

I’m happy to say that I’m a proud graduate of Duck University, and I have a diploma to prove it!

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Attending Duck University has broadened my horizons and I now consider duck to add to my current cooking routine – I hope you will too. Stay tuned for future posts with recipes and ideas.

To learn more about duck, cooking videos/tips, and Maple Leaf Farms, visit http://www.mapleleaffarms.com/consumer

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