Quail Eggs & Food Culture

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Quail eggs have fewer calories than chicken eggs, and with their higher protein ratio two or three can make for a surprisingly hearty breakfast. PHOTOGRAPH BY WOLFGANG KAEHLER / LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY

This post on the New Yorker’s website is a good sample of what has changed about the writing style, among other things, in the changing food culture of North America. We have left out the first half of the post, which is not for the squeamish in general and certainly not for animal rights activists. Yet, it is realistic, honest, transparent and alot of other things that our global food systems have not been in the last century:

QUAIL, THE QUIETER BACK-YARD EGG OPTION

By

…In her book, “The Coturnix Revolution,” Alexandra Douglas makes a convincing case for quail’s superiority over chickens: they are less expensive, take up less space, and convert feed into edible protein more efficiently. Not only is a quail cage quieter than a coop of squawking chickens, it can be small; a square foot is plenty of room for a single quail.Douglas operates a farm called Stellar Gamebirds, Poultry, and Waterfowl, and one of her fastest-growing lines is quail hatching eggs, which she packs and ships overnight to customers nationwide. Last year, she filled five hundred orders from hobbyists and back-yard farmers. Quail are prolific egg producers. A healthy quail that is fed and cared for properly might lay as many as three hundred eggs a year. It’s impossible to know, however, how many quail eggs are produced; the market is so small that the U.S.D.A. ignores quail-egg production altogether.

Commercially raised quail and quail eggs were not even available in the United States until about forty years ago. Even today, there are only four large-scale commercial quail farms. Manchester Farms, the first quail farm in the U.S., was opened by Bill and Janet Odom outside Columbia, South Carolina, in the early nineteen-seventies. Bill Odom was the flock manager for the Campbell Soup Company, supervising chicken farmers in South Carolina, and started raising quail in his back yard to train his hunting dogs. His daughter, Brittney Miller, now owns and operates the four-hundred-and-fifty-acre operation, which produces about four million quail a year and logs sales of ten million dollars. It serves both the high and low end of the market; white-tablecloth restaurants to catfish shacks, fried-chicken houses, and barbecue joints. In a bid to take quail mainstream and compete directly against chicken, Miller distributes in mainstream grocers, including Kroger, Piggly Wiggly, and Publix, and has doubled the company’s distribution footprint to four thousand stores.

International Quail, opened in 1983 in Greensboro, Georgia, sells sixteen million quail a year, mainly through specialty grocers serving Asian and Hispanic shoppers. “Country boys in the South would be our third-biggest market,” Arnold Cardarelli, Jr., the marketing director at the company, told me. Since joining International Quail, in 1997, Cardarelli has run countless in-store tastings and consumer surveys trying to crack the mainstream market. Taste isn’t the problem, he said; it’s the tiny bones of the bird.

The day we returned home from Pettibone’s, we carried a Ziploc bag full of ice and four quail. I had no appetite, and we didn’t cook the birds right away. The next day, preparing Sunday’s dinner, I placed the dressed quail in a marinade of buttermilk and hot sauce. Each time I opened the fridge, I saw the tiny appendages sunk in white. I felt duty-bound to cook them well. I seared them in a smoking cast-iron skillet, smeared in butter and olive oil. The slightly sweet fragrance of game filled the kitchen. Lifting the birds out with tongs, I plated them with roasted sweet potatoes. Our ten-year-old son ate his corn, but didn’t touch the quail. We heated up leftover pizza for him, and my husband and I stared across the table in obligation, knowing that we had to eat this offering between the two of us. It didn’t taste like chicken. It had a sweet, almost almond-like flavor I couldn’t quite name. Later, when I talked to Cardarelli, he called it “meat with a personality.” This feels like an adequate description, if not an appetizing one.

Mya Frazier is a freelance business journalist based in the Midwest. She is a former staff writer for Advertising Age, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and American City Business Journals.

 

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