Byline: Bill Daley
MIDDLEBURY, Ind. _ Credit the Culver family for helping to coin the phrase "Long Island duckling." Six generations ago, in 1858, an ancestor started a commercial duck farm in the fields of Westhampton, N.Y. But when the middle class discovered what the rich had known all along_that the eastern tip of Long Island was a great place to live_acreage began to be plowed up for housing. So, in 1959, the Culvers packed up and moved to Indiana, where their unassuming corporate headquarters and processing facility now sit amid 300 acres of farmland.
Long Island duckling in Indiana. Who would have thought? Yet thanks to Culver Duck Farms and Maple Leaf Farms, another family-owned company in Milford, Ind., the Hoosier State is the center of the American duck industry. Both growers like to emphasize their down-home, country manner, yet duck retains a certain elan more in keeping, perhaps, with the tony Hamptons than Indiana farm country.
Duck is hot news these days with chefs, who love playing with the bird's plush meatiness, crisp skin and sensual fat, and with consumers, who can take advantage of more ready-to-eat or quick-cooking duck products than ever before.
The bird is also making news in less savory ways. California has banned the force-feeding of ducks to make foie gras, the fatty liver so prized by gourmets. And animal rights groups are campaigning for more humane treatment of ducks, of which 24 million were raised for meat in 2003. Some grocery chains are listening, which may mean duck growers like the Culvers, who insist they are raising ducks right, may have to change how they do business.
Americans may still think of domestic bliss as a chicken in every pot, or perhaps a rotisserie chicken in every grocery bag, The Duckling Council, an industry trade group, …