Duck producers

PUBLISHED: 10:51 25 November 2010 | UPDATED: 11:57 28 February 2013

Duck producers

Duck producers

Why duck meat is growing in popularity

No ducking this issue

Duck meat and duck eggs are growing in popularity. Mark Nicholls meets two Norfolk producers to find out why.
Pictures: Bill Smith

The humble duck is making its presence known across Norfolk. While not always fashionable on dining tables, or its eggs a first choice for housewives and bakers, duck for dinner and duck eggs for breakfast are making a timely return.
They are still not produced on the same scale as chicken or turkey, but theres a number of small producers rearing ducks for their eggs and fattening up ducklings into succulent 5lb birds for the delicious brown meat they yield.
There are several larger poultry producers in the market, but reassuringly Norfolk continues to support smaller producers who rear ducks in their own distinctive style, ensuring the birds are raised in clean, healthy and stress-free environments which in turn lead to perfect eggs and tender meat.
At Martins Farm at Hindolveston, near Holt, Jason Peart rears ducks alongside chickens at the family farm, while a few miles away at Mattishall, Watercress Lane Duck Eggs produce some 7.5 million eggs a year for local and national customers.
They are two producers who are helping champion the humble duck and both have noticed a growing interest in both eggs and meat.
Jason explains that chickens remain the main line of the farms poultry business, as well as 50 acres of arable farming, but there has been a long-standing tradition of duck rearing in the family.
Buying in day-old ducklings, he fattens them up over eight to 10 weeks for duck meat which is sold at farmers markets, village shops and local pubs, restaurants and butchers shops.
Rearing, preparing and selling around 1,000 ducks a year, he says: Duck has definitely become more fashionable recently and that is an area we are looking to develop.
He keeps his free range ducks outside in open grassy pens giving them room to wander around and enjoy a health, relaxed outdoor lifestyle.
The more relaxed and the less stressed a bird is, the better quality the meat, explains Jason. Its in everybodys interest to rear the ducks properly and have a great flavour to them. We feed them a mix of wheat and malted barley, which we grow ourselves.
Once the ducks are the right weight for the table, they are processed, which includes them being plucked and given a wax coat which later peels off to give the birds a fresh-plucked finish.
I hang them for up to two weeks, which helps with the maturity of flavour and then most of them go to farmers markets and farm shops or village shops, says Jason, who runs the enterprise with wife Karen and their boys Stanley, four, and George, who will be two in December and his parents Ivan and Diane.
There has been a lot more interest in ducks over the last two years. I believe that people have decided that they want quality food, and in terms of flavour duck takes some beating, he adds. It is a lovely flavoured meat.
When his birds, hybrid Aylesbury ducks, leave the farm they are in the region of 5lb and sell for 11 at that weight.
Winter tends to be a busier time for ducks and there is now growing demand for duck at Christmas, he says.
To me the appeal of duck meat is the flavour more than anything else. Duck is much richer than chicken, it is more succulent and a good quality brown meat.
Ducks are popular at Christmas and over the past few years have become more popular. People are still buying a good sized turkey, but Ive noticed a growing number are also taking a duck with it as well, says Jason.

To me the appeal of duck meat is the flavour more than anything else. Duck is much richer than chicken, it is more succulent and a good quality brown meat.

Elsewhere, one of the major duck meat producers in East Anglia is Gressingham Foods, which has production facilities near Diss and Woodbridge with free range and indoor rearing system for ducks.
Founded in1971, it changed its named in 2006 to Gressingham Foods after its best selling product, the Gressingham Duck, and is the only company in the world licensed to produce Gressingham, which was created by crossing the wild mallard with the Pekin<correct>.
Meanwhile, Watercress Lane Duck Eggs began as an enterprise producing day-old ducklings to fatten up for meat, but when a key customer went out of business, it was faced with 25,000 ducks laying eggs with no-one wanting the ducklings.
So, explains manageress Melandy Daniels, we went into duck eggs.
The company, which is run by Melandys partner Paul Leveridge, provides ducklings to be fattened for meat, but now has some 30,000 ducks laying eggs with the main outlets being wholesale markets, Chinese food manufacturers, eggs merchants and stores in Norfolk.
We also have our own branded eggs, which is a side of the business we are developing adds Melandy.
Every egg is printed with their logo and date laid for traceability.
The ducks live in spacious sheds with fresh straw three times a week and plenty of feed and water, and every morning between 6.30am and 9.30am, staff hand-pick the eggs that have been laid overnight.
The eggs which sell for around 2.50 for half a dozen are cleaned, graded in size and prepared on site and are usually on their way to various outlets within 36 hours, apart from those eggs kept back for the next batch of hatchlings that will be reared as layers.
Watercress Lane Duck Eggs, which was a finalist in the plough to plate section of the EDP Norfolk Food Awards this year, use the Pekin duck, crossed with Aylesbury duck and employ around 35 people at the Mattishall site.
There are also free range ducks, which spend more of their time in outdoor pens, though are taken inside overnight to ward off the threat of predators such as foxes.
Melandy says: Duck eggs are very good for baking, you just have to adjust the maths a little as they are larger than chicken eggs. A duck egg is much richer than a hens egg and bigger but used and eaten in the same way. For me it is the richness of the yoke, and the white is denser than a hens egg.

Martins Farms, Melton Road, Hindolveston, 01263 861241. Watercress Lane Duck Eggs, Watercress Lane, Mattishall, 01362 850254 or visit

Duck egg recipes provided by Watercress Lane Duck Eggs

Baked duck egg with chorizo, piquillo peppers and asparagus
A delicious tapas that can be easily put together in advance, then baked in the oven.
Serves six

6 English asparagus spears, trimmed and ends peeled
Extra virgin olive oil
3 piquillo peppers from a jar, drained and finely sliced
120g spicy chorizo skinned and finely diced
3 Watercress Lane duck eggs

1 Preheat the oven to 160c/gas 3.
2 Boil the asparagus spears for two minutes in salted water.
3 Remove asparagus and refresh in cold water to stop the cooking process. Cut each spear in half lengthwise and then in half across the middle.
4 Grease three small, ovenproof dishes with some extra virgin olive oil. Divide the piquillo peppers, asparagus and chorizo equally between them, and crack a duck egg into the centre of each dish.
5 Season well and bake for 15 to 18 minutes until the chorizo is cooked, the egg whites as set and the yolk is hot but still runny.

Poached duck egg with purple sprouting broccoli and prosciutto
A quick, fresh and healthy lunch.
Serves four

500g purple sprouting broccoli
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
8 slices of prosciutto or Parma ham
Handful of shaved Parmesan
4 Watercress Lane duck eggs

1 Steam the broccoli until just tender, but still bright green. Divide between four shallow bowls and drizzle with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
2 Grill the prosciutto until crisp. Top the broccoli with pieces of the prosciutto and Parmesan.
3 Poach the duck eggs in a frying pan of simmering water for three to four minutes or until cooked to your liking. Lift out, drain and add one to each bowl. Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper and serve.

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