Everything about the breed is controlled by a French AOC designation granted on 1 August 1957. The standards laid out in the designation are governed by the “Comité Interprofessionnel de la Volaille de Bresse.”
Almost 30% of the Bresse Chickens raised are consumed in Paris. Only 5% are exported from the country, and the remainder are consumed throughout the rest of France. The birds must be exported slaughtered; French law forbids exporting live Bresse chickens.
Bresse is an area between the Jura mountains on the Swiss border, and the Saône River. The area actually is a historical province that now no longer exists: the geographic area that it covered has now been taken in by three other regions: Saône et Loire in its northern part, Ain in the south, and Jura on the east.
Not all chickens raised in the Bresse area are automatically by default classed as Bresse Chickens. A chicken must be the correct breed, with the correct labelling, to make it a Bresse Chicken.
A Bresse Chicken has pure white feathers, a very bright red crest, and blue feet with four toes on each foot.
There are three hatcheries that producers can buy the chicks from. The producers then incubate the chicks for 5 weeks, then release them outside where they are fed corn or wheat mixed in with milk, and whatever insects they find. By law, flocks can be no bigger than 500 birds, and 108 square feet (10 square metres) must be allotted per chicken during this free-range stage. They must have nine weeks of free range if going to be sold as a chicken; eleven weeks of free range if they are to be sold as classed as a “poulard” (females), and twenty-three weeks of free range if they are to be sold as a capon (males.) Capons are castrated when they are ten weeks old.
At the end of the free range period, the birds are put in wooden cages (called “épinettes”) for 10 to 15 days (minimum 30 days for poulards and capons) in darkness during which its flesh becomes white.
Minimum ages when sold to market:
- Chickens: 4 months, minimum weight of about 2.8 pounds (1 ¼ kg);
- Poulards: 5 months, minimum weight of about 4 pounds (1 ¾ kg);
- Capons: 8 months, minimum weight of about 6.6 pounds (3 kg.)
There are around 15 processors who slaughter the birds, and age the carcasses by hanging for a short time after slaughter.
The processors also look after selling the meat. The slaughtered birds are always sold as a whole bird, never as parts. The head and neck are left on, as well as some feathers at the base of the neck when shipped to the stores and sold to the consumer, The neck has a seal around it saying “Bresse”, and a bracelet around the left ankle of each chicken identifies the breeder.
The market for the chicken breaks down as follows (2005 figures):
- Butchers: 30%
- Wholesalers: 24% (12% of which is sold on to restaurants)
- Restaurants: 18%
- Specialty shops: 12 % (Caterers, etc)
- Supermarkets: 12%
- Fine food stores: 4%
In a French supermarket, Bresse Chickens sell for about 17 Euros (2005 prices.)
A traditional way of cooking Bresse Chicken is cutting it into pieces, browning the pieces in a pan, then finish cooking with a cream and egg yolk sauce added.
The Italian composer, Giuseppe Verdi, was passionate about Bresse Chicken. The French chef, Casimir Moisson, invented for him “Supremes de Volaille Verdi” using Bresse Chicken breasts.