If chefs seem more excited than usual this weekend it may be because finally – after decades of false hope and failed attempts – Bresse chickens are set to be available to Sydney restaurants.
Bresse is a 400-year-old chicken breed many chefs believe is the world's most delicious thanks to its juicy, deeply flavoured, buttery meat.
By law the birds must be raised in the eastern French region of Bresse to earn their protected name (in the same way champagne can only be made in Champagne), meaning the prized poulet will be sold as "Australian Bresse" in NSW.
"The French guard Bresse genetics with their life," says Luke Winder, founder of Tathra Place Free Range farm in Wombeyan Caves, 50 kilometres north of Goulburn.
"There are only two companies in the United States with the rights to Bresse genetics, for instance. It takes a lot of money and dedication to transport the eggs outside of France."
With his wife Pia, Winder is breeding Australian Bresse in partnership with NSW business CopperTree Farms, which specialises in supplying retired dairy cow steaks to hatted restaurants.
In addition to online sale through Hudson Meats and Two Providores, the chickens are set to debut at Crown fine-diner Woodcut in a fortnight, plus Firedoor in Surry Hills and Icebergs Dining Room and Bar, Bondi.
A whole two-kilogram Bresse is expected to be priced around $200 to share, with variance depending on the restaurant and preparation. Certainly more expensive than Ross and Cobb breed chickens common to the commercial chook market, but still a far cry from the €290 ($490) it costs for Bresse poached in pig's bladder at the three-Michelin-starred Epicure restaurant in Paris.
Winder is tight-lipped on how much CopperTree Farms paid for Bresse genetics rights, but The Sydney Morning Herald estimates it was more than $1 million, based on previous import costs in the US and Australia.
In 2013, Bresse eggs were also purchased for breeding in Australia by a syndicate of chefs and chicken lovers led by Jean-Paul Prunetti, owner of Melbourne bistro institution France-Soir.
Those eggs cost more than $500,000 to import and hatch, however the syndicate was left out of pocket when the Department of Agriculture ordered all 4000 Bresse and other rare-breed birds to be destroyed after one chick returned a positive result for salmonella.
Winder's Bresse, however, are proud and handsome birds with a French tricolore of white plumage, red combs and steel-blue feet. Most of their days are spent scratching for worms and insects on Tathra Place pasture, guarded by loyal Maremma sheepdogs against foxes and other predators.
Whereas French Bresse spend their last eight to 15 days in a small cage being fattened with maize and milk, Winder "finishes" his chickens in a coop where they can still move freely.
"A few Australian farmers have tried to breed Bresse commercially over the years, but no one has been successful," he says. Tathra Place now has 850 Bresse and Winder is growing the flock to sell 1000 chickens per week.
"I was told by other farmers that the males aren't fertile, the laying rate is low and, even if you can get some eggs to hatch, you'll lose 50 per cent [of chicks] in the first week. But I managed to get them healthy and they've gone from laying at around 20 per cent up to 75 per cent."
A former electrician, Winder had never set foot on a farm until six years ago when he purchased 100 acres to build Tathra Place, largely inspired by YouTube videos of American activist and regenerative farmer Joel Salatin.
"There's nothing complicated about what we're doing here," he says. "We're just giving the animals some space instead of crushing them in sheds to be pumped with antibiotics and poxy chemicals."
Specialising in pork, beef, quail, chicken and duck (Quay chef Peter Gilmore is the number one customer of Tathra Place's Maremma duck brand), Winder has created a sustainable ecosystem where every animal has a role. Chickens are fantastic soil fertilisers, for example, in turn creating nutrient-rich paddocks for cows to graze.
"I started the farm with $10,000, selling eggs out of our home back in Sydney," says Winder, who launched his own YouTube channel in January with the aim of inspiring others to try regenerative agriculture.
"I hope other people will look at the farm and think 'well, if this bunghead electrician has made a go of it – why can't I?'"