The birds are highly valued for their gamey depth of flavour, yet with fine, tender flesh and delicious, clean-flowing fat. Roughly 1.2 million are raised annually, but such is the demand inside France that few birds make it out of the country. As a premium product, they sell at a premium price: Poulet de Bresse command around 15 euro ($21) per kilo at fine food markets.
The most typical examples, known as Bény, have a distinctive red crown, white feathers and blue feet, making up the colours of the French flag or drapeau tricolore, making it an ideal national mascot. Black (Bourg) and grey (Louhans) feather varieties are also quite common. When butchered, the chickens have a clear reddish-pink tone to the flesh and pronounced yellowish fat. Bones are surprisingly light for sturdy, free-range birds.
Poulet de Bresse are reared to exacting standards by small farms in a small designated area around the city, protected under French and European law (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) since 1957 - the first livestock to be granted such protection. AOC status was granted based on the unique characteristics of flavour given by local soil and grain, as well as the dedication of the local farmer's association to protecting quality. For example, stocks are limited by the size of the farm - with a minimum allocation of ten square meters for each bird. Diet and slaughter times are also strictly controlled. Birds are required to spend their final days in an epinette, a building traditionally used for forced feeding with grain mash and milk.
Bresse is fiercely proud of its chickens and the emblematic bird adorns a vast range of local produce and merchandise. Famous non-French fans include molecular gastronomist Heston Blumenthal, who pronounced the Bresse chicken a clear winner in terms of taste and texture during controlled research for his BBC series In Search Of Perfection.
A Canadian variety, the Blue Foot, was developed from French stock in the 1980s and is raised along similar lines. It has become equally highly prized in the USA, commanding many times the price per kilo of an equivalent free range chicken from lesser stock. The American stock of the famous French Bresse (Blue Foot) is available from several US breeders who took the time, money and energy to acquire, preserve and breed this line of Bresse to exacting standards.
- Henley, Jon (January 10, 2008). "Top of the pecking order". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-06-28.