Gourmets lead drive to restore roast goose to the Christmas table

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The turkey's goose may not be cooked, but this year, as never before, it has a rival for the nation's culinary affections.

The turkey's goose may not be cooked, but this year, as never before, it has a rival for the nation's culinary affections.

While turkey and all the trimmings will characterise the majority of British tables on Monday, what will distinguish the gourmets from the gourmands will be the presence of a large roast goose.

Ten million turkeys will be consumed between now and the new year, but from Islington to Inverness the appetite is for something with a more upmarket image.

Sales of geese, deposed from the festive feast by turkey in the 1960s, have seen a massive rise. This Christmas, 290,000 of the birds - representing a 50 per cent increase within a decade -have been sold to the burgeoning numbers of affluent metropolitans.

London butcher Chris Godfrey said: "The in-crowd are buying geese - and other people are buying turkey. Goose is for people who are foodies, for the trendy. They are bought by actors, City and media types."

Mr Godfrey, whose family has been running their traditional shop in Highbury for four generations, has seen a 20-fold increase in sales of geese since 1990, with demand stronger than ever this year.

But the bird, most closely associated with the world of Dickens' A Christmas Carol has made a comeback, with its 21st century characteristics.

The goose appeals to the gourmet. Hard to rear intensively, it has the cachet of ethical status, is riding high on the demand for organic food and has the snob value of being reassuringly expensive.

John Adlard, chairman of the British Goose Producers' Association, said: "Goose is for the connoisseur. They are far more expensive that the traditional turkey, but you can't compare the two meats - it would be like comparing cod and caviar, chump chop and fillet steak.

"I don't want to be rude about turkey, but you get turkey rolls and turkey burgers all year round. You don't get that with goose."

Mr Adlard, who is the country's largest seller of goslings, credits the resurgence to the fact that the British palate is becoming more "discerning".

"They [consumers] want a fresh product which has been out on the grass, not stuck in a shed for weeks."

Goose has the added attraction being seasonal, available only between Michaelmas (29 September) and Christmas. It is also praised for its healthy properties. Despite being known as fatty, it is lower in cholesterol and higher in protein than turkey.

Mr Lidgate, whose 150-year-old Holland Park butcher supplies organic meat from the Prince of Wales's Highgrove estate, has a different theory about the success of goose sales - along with other birds such as pheasant, partridge and duck.

He said: "It is the continental influence as much as anything. Goose used to be an English tradition, and it has remained so throughout Europe. Our tastes are vastly more adventurous and European these days."

But it is not just the affluent who are turning to goose.

One butcher at Sainsbury's said yesterday: "We have plenty of turkeys, but only a few geese and they have gone as soon as we have put them out on the shelves."

Judy Goodman, who started raising the birds "as a hobby" on the family's Worcestershire dairy farm in 1982, has seen her sales double in the past decade. This year she will sell 3,500.

She said: "People want something different from turkey and business is buoyant. At the beginning of December the telephone went mad with people wanting goose. There has been a real clamour this month. And the trend will continue because younger people are buying them."

Yet the turkey can rest safe in the knowledge that other fowl are far from knocking it off the top spot.

The birds originate from Mexico but were first imported into Britain by 16th-century north African traders.

Henry VIII was the first English king to enjoy turkey, but the Victorians made it fashionable to eat it at Christmas.

As late as the 1950s, turkey was a luxury, with goose and chicken the more common Christmas fare. But since the sixties it has become the traditional dish to serve, with mass production bringing it within reach of even the most humble household.

Peter Bradnock of the British Poultry Meat Federation said yesterday: "I think turkey will continue to be the overwhelming choice for Christmas. Goose has become more popular, but it is still very much a seasonal bird."

Paul Kelly, the country's largest producer of free range turkeys, said: "Goose has got a lot of flavour but so do our turkeys. If you buy the right turkey ... it really has a fantastic flavour.

He added: "Really, it is a matter of a lot more meat and better value. Goose is an expensive, luxury product. A 15lb turkey will serve 15 people, whereas a goose of the same size will only feed seven to 10 people."

What will Mr Kelly be serving this Christmas? Naturally, goose is the answer.

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