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American Bresse

Bresse chickens have a long and colorful history that underlies their unique claim in the poultry realm: They are reputed to be the best-tasting chickens in the world. From that simple but powerful claim flows a fascinating story that his rich in tradition, intrigue, and nationalistic pride. Bresse stand at the pinnacle where food and fowl intersect.

About 500 years ago, Bresse (rhymes with “bless”) emerged as a distinct chicken breed in the former province of Bresse in eastern France. Somewhere between the Rhone River and the French Alps sits a 60-mile by 25-mile swath of fields and woodlands. Here the breed was formed from a now-forgotten mix of local fowl. Through a combination of luck and selective breeding, small flocks of poulet de Bresse that dotted the French countryside soon earned the reputation of having a unique and exquisite flavor.

There are four varieties of Bresse: white, black, blue, and gray. The white variety is the best known and mirrors the red, white, and blue pattern of the French national flag with its large red comb, bright white feathers, and steel-blue legs. (As newly hatched chicks their legs are yellow.) Greenfire Farms has focused its efforts on curating this variety of Bresse. White Bresse produce a medium to large-size cream-colored egg.

In order for a chicken to taste like a Bresse chicken it must, perhaps inconveniently, be an authentic Bresse chicken that can directly trace its genetic lineage to the flocks of eastern France. Bresse belong to a genetically distinct chicken breed that metabolize feed in a certain way, distribute certain types of muscle across their frames in a certain pattern and at certain rates, and produce meat with a unique and distinct flavor. Bresse are known to have unusually light bones and thin skin. These many physical differences flow from the singular genetics of Bresse. More than a half-millennium of breed selection has produced a Bresse that cannot be replicated by simply crossing other unrelated breeds of chickens to create a Bresse facsimile.

As early as 1825, the prototypical epicurean Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin described Bresse as “the queen of chickens, and the chicken of kings.” Bresse have been said to possess “the tastiest, the firmest and most succulent flesh of any chicken anywhere.” And so, because of its legendary meat quality, Bresse command a huge premium compared to conventional commercial poultry and are the basis of a thriving agricultural industry in France. There is a single center in France that is in charge of producing the finest Bresse breeding stock. These breeders are distributed to three hatcheries that use them to produce more than 1.5 million Bresse chicks each year. The Bresse chicks are sold to about 400 small farmers. The birds are raised according to the exacting Bresse production protocol and processed by a small number of butchering facilities.

The French argue that for a Bresse to be called a Bresse it must have been raised in France. (For this reason at Greenfire Farms we make a clear distinction from French-hatched birds by referring to our chickens as American Bresse.) Americans can, however, approximate the traditional methods of raising Bresse in this country by providing them access to pasture and finishing them on organic grains and dairy products. As the Wall Street Journal recently noted, the Bresse imported by Greenfire Farms are at the forefront of a movement to re-position chicken at the top of the list of gourmet table fare. By raising American Bresse in the French tradition you can be a part of this revolutionary shift, too.

Information from Greenfire Farms

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