Selecting fresh apricots at my local market recently reminded me of the most interesting farm tours I’ve been on, I’d say it was to a real duck dynasty!
This Duck Dynasty has special Muscovy ducks with heritage to South America and France who are carefully and lovingly raised by Grimaud Farms in central California. It is a world apart from the Duck Dynasty you may be familiar with, however this Duck Dynasty is just as interesting!
Grimaud Farms is run by a fascinating man, Rheal Cayers, who has vast experience working with ducks in France and is French Canadian by heritage. He is very passionate about his life work and the result is incredibly delicious duck.
I spent a summer day with Rheal learning all about his specialty Muscovy ducks, how they are raised and about the San Joaquin Valley and the bounty it provides for our whole country!
Grimaud Farms implements the French Label Rouge guidelines, which ensures plenty of space, open-air, daylight, the number of duck barns on a farm, a nourishing diet, no hormones, antibiotics or the likes, and most importantly, safety for the ducks. ( Grimaud exceeds many of these standards)The ducks are raised slowly and naturally, taking almost twice as long as most commercial ducks. First of all, these aren’t just any ducks. They are snow white muscovy ducks with pedigree backgrounds. ( They are not the Muscovy ducks you may have seen at a local park!) Specially selected ducks are reserved for breeding stock so there’s complete control of the quality of their flocks. While showing me the incubation room I had the joy of seeing a group of hatchlings breaking free from their shells! The ducks are gently cared for from incubation to processing, all by Grimaud Farms workers and under amazingly strict guidelines.
You may have a vision of a poultry farm as well, not the cleanest place. Wrong. Before any vehicle can enter any of their small farms it must go through locked gates and a spray wash to minimize bringing any contaminants onto the farm which could lead to disease among the ducks. Upon entering the barn, everyone must put on clean coveralls and booties while going through a very specific process to reduce contamination. ( I dropped one of my booties on the wrong side of the bench and had to start over!)
Rheal proudly showed me every step of the process; from collecting eggs, incubating the eggs, raising the hatchlings, to the final processing. I was absolutely taken aback by the level of care in each step. In this duck dynasty, the ducks are the stars of the show.
Many people including myself, have a preconception that since duck meat is all dark meat, it surely can’t be considered ‘lean meat’. However, the Muscovy is a very different duck than the Pekin. ( the variety most often found in grocery stores) It has a naturally larger breast and the skin has half the fat of Pekin or Moulard ducks. The Muscovy duck meat is actually leaner than turkey! Muscovy duck is a wonderful lean protein with tons of FLAVOR.
I was very grateful that Rheal could take the time to spend a day with me. He explained that this was their ‘offseason’ and was most gracious with his time. He said folks don’t eat much duck in the summer. I was baffled, and that inspired me! Living in Florida where summer is the majority of our season, we just eat lighter and fresher when it’s hot out. I’ve always liked the idea of enjoying ingredients in season and naturally pairing them together. On our journey to the farms, we traveled down a lane canopied by giant walnut trees. As we approached the duck barns they were surrounded by cornfields, just about ready to harvest. Driving in from Silicon Valley ( where the cherry orchards have now been replaced with silicon chip factories), I passed asparagus fields and farm stands selling fresh apricots. Rheal explained the vast amount of greens, table grapes and other vegetables grown here amongst pistachio and almond orchards. The San Joaquin Valley produces an amazing amount of our nation’s produce. The weather is beautiful and the valley is fertile. I began envisioning a wonderful summer salad to celebrate these ducks, the wonderful bounty of their region and the man who ensures their wonderful upbringing. It features sliced seared duck breast ( or smoked duck breast is also delicious), ingredients from the ducks ‘neighborhood’ like asparagus, apricots, walnuts, and corn. All atop field greens. Then it is dressed with J LeBlanc olive oil and Walnut oil from France and Minus8 vinegar from Canada to celebrate Rheal’s French and Canadian heritage ! See recipe for this great summer salad or classic seared duck breast ‘San Joaquin” on our RECIPES page.
Viva Gourmet is delighted to recommend Grimaud Farms muscovy duck. A whole( double lobe) boneless breast weighs an average of 2 lbs. Another excellent option is the smoked duck breast– which is lightly smoked and all-natural. Perfect for a charcuterie board or to top your salad . It’s time to rethink duck. Rheal Cayer’s duck dynasty is one to be proud of!