To this farmer, duck eggs are all they're quacked up to be

The roadside sign propped at the foot of the driveway up to Gull Cottage is hand-lettered and resolutely plainspoken: "Duck Eggs," it offers, and below that, as an obligatory postscript, "Chicken Eggs."

Gull Cottage is not a farm so much as a few chicken-wire pens and a spongy backyard pasture situated northwest of Princeton between Lambertville and the village of Hopewell along a quiet stretch of Route 518 that unscrolls below the low ridge of Sourland Mountain.

Customers driving up the lane soon learn why - besides 100 or so ducks of a rainbow of breeds, luxuriating peacocks, twitchy guinea hens, and Road Island Red layers - there are sober, three-foot-tall geese patrolling the premises.

They are security guards, essentially, meant to keep foxes from slinking down from mountain hideouts for poultry dinners; and just as sternly, to signal the hawks looping above to buzz off.

They do a great job: "We haven't lost a bird since we got the geese," reports Soni Gavzy, the wife of Paul Gavzy, the duck man, now in his 80th year.

Gull Cottage (the name is left over from the craft business the couple once operated at the Jersey Shore) is Paul's baby. He spends an hour or so a day freshening the water tubs just beyond his living room, picking up cartons of leftover feed lettuce and broccoli from nearby Pennington Market, and collecting the daily egg haul, which amounts to not quite three dozen of the duck in these shorter-day months, compared to many, many dozens more of the chicken.

He describes the project as something between an oversize hobby and a small business. But it's not quite either. It's more of a homespun duck antidefamation project, and a bit of a love story. Paul, weathered, a bit grizzled, given to a taciturnity more associated with northeastern Vermont, speaks with fondness, even tenderness, when the subject is his ducks. (They are a rainbow, indeed - satiny black Cayugas, and Rouens, two-tone Indian Runners, Khaki Campbells, endangered Swedish Blues, Welsh Harlequins, and Pekins, also know as Long Islands.)

They are a sweet-natured, misunderstood class, in his view - friendly and decent, not as cranky or occasionally hostile as chickens. So why don't you see their eggs? It's a math question, he says. Ducks don't lay eggs until six months of age. But most of them are dispatched before then, killed for meat at three months.

If you inquire about his duck eggs, the second thing you learn at Gull Cottage is that once you taste one, you'll never be satisfied with an ordinary chicken egg again: "It's like the best chicken egg you've ever had," he says. This is the gospel according to Paul, and he isn't totally gilding the lily: His duck eggs - larger than the chicken variety, thicker of shell, more laden with yolk, and lower in water content - are indeed lushly richer, but somehow not dense or leaden.

They perform wonders (because of a high protein and fat value), giving loft and volume to Soni's cakes and bread pudding and apple-bacon quiches, though four of them will overflow a quiche pan designed for four chicken eggs (they're close to twice the size of an extra-large chicken egg).

They scramble up fluffy, rich and deeper yellow. Paul prefers them poached for breakfast. The couple goes through a dozen duck eggs a week, just for the two of them.

The duck egg is a good egg.

It's a good egg, all right. But a hard sell. There are times - at the Doylestown and New Hope farmers' markets (in the warmer months), and the little weekly Hopewell market at the local train depot (open all year on Wednesdays from 2 to 6 p.m.) - when Paul might sell a single dozen of his duck eggs for every 10 dozen chicken eggs.

"Some people," says Soni, "say, 'Duck? Yuck! It's hard to get them to try them. I'd understand it, maybe, if they were frog legs.' " These are people, of course, who have never had the pleasure. And they appear to have a shared misconception that a duck egg will taste like a duck.

But the duck egg is an exception to the rule that, well, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck. No! A duck egg (at a premium $10 a superjumbo dozen) tastes like an egg. A chicken egg ($6 a dozen), for goodness sake, doesn't taste like chicken.

A cosmetic issue: Unlike discreetly roosting chickens, ducks lay eggs willy-nilly in the fenced backyard, according them a scruffy, straw-specked shell which Paul doesn't scrub, the better to leave the natural protective film in place that gives them a shelf life of six weeks.

And when the ducks cease to lay after three or four years? Do Paul and Soni sit down to a duck a l'orange dinner at that point? "No," Paul Gavzy says, almost sheepishly, "we let them die of old age."


Gull Cottage, 148 Lambertville-Hopewell Rd. (Route 518), Hopewell, N.J., 609-466-9713.



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