Like roasted swan, stuffed peacock and the holiday boar’s head, roast goose has become a quaint anachronism more suited to Dickensian novels than modern dinner tables.
Which isn’t all that surprising considering their notoriously ill dispositions. And difficultly in processing. And comparative lankiness to turkey. Suffice to say not a whole lot of farmers are signing up for that kind of headache.
One Petaluma family has long been up to the challenge, but after this year is giving it up for good as well.
For nearly two decades, Sylvia Mavalwalla of S&B Farm was the goose lady, raising up to 250 heritage geese each year for folks like Alice Waters to serve to folks like Prince Charles. Word is, the bonny prince said it was the best goose he’d ever eaten. “We used to sell out our reservations by May,” said Mavalwalla of her cult-like foodie following.
But over the last few years, Sylvia’s arthritis has precluded her from the goose game. Instead she’s turned her attentions to the more docile chicken (she has a thriving immigrant clientele who “don’t like dead chickens from the grocery store”) and several head of grass-fed beef.
Hoping to keep up the family tradition, daughter-in-law Ellyn picked up the mantle with the help of her own teenage daughter. With Sylvia’s oversight, the junior Mavalwalla ladies raised a bumper crop of 38 White Emden and Heritage American Buff geese in 2010 — the only commercial operation in the North Bay to do so and one of the few remaining flocks of the dwindling Buffs.
Each of the pasture-raised geese has will be hand-processed by the family and a group of helpful friends at the farm — which takes about 35 minutes or so per bird.
This will, however, be the geese’s swan song. After this season, Ellyn said they’ll no longer be raising geese commercially on the farm. “We’re not on the property and it’s just too hard,” she said. But they are willing to help someone else learn the trade. “I would love to see someone get a fresh-dressed goose on their table next year,” she said, with an offer of help and guidance.
About 25 of the geese are still available from the Mavalwalla’s flock if you move fast. The geese will cost about $6.75 per pound, with each goose weighing about 10-17 pounds. email them at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in a fresh goose…or, you know, raising them next year.
Have you ever had a fresh goose?