By Muriel Boselli
PARIS, Feb 20 (Reuters) - The rumpus in Europe over horsemeat sold as beef is bringing a bonanza for France's 700 surviving horse butchers, who are suddenly piquing consumer curiosity after years of decline.
Non-stop media coverage has made eating horses a hot topic round office water coolers, boosting sales by up to 15 percent, the head of France's horse butchers' trade group said.
"It's true, there is a pick up in trade, we worked a bit more last week because our clients speak more freely about horsemeat now," said Eric Vigoureux of Interbev Equins.
"With the scandal, in offices and on the workplace everybody is talking about it, so those who normally buy it feel less guilty and recommend their butcher," Vigoureux, who is a working horse butcher near Bordeaux, southwestern France, said.
France's taste for horsemeat reputedly dates back to hungry 18th-century revolutionaries who ate the horses of toppled aristocrats. It flourished for two centuries, then fell out of fashion with a squeamish younger generation.
The horsemeat scandal began last month when tests in Ireland revealed some beef products also contained equine DNA and triggered product recalls across Europe.
While the mislabelling aroused public concern about oversight of the food chain, it also prompted much discussion about the ethical and gastronomic merits of eating horses by choice.
"I had a lot of feedback from horse butchers all across the nation, saying that there were a lot of clients last week," Vigoureux said, estimating sales were up between 10 and 15 percent nationwide since the scandal erupted.
"Clients feel completely unapologetic about it now," he added.
At Le Taxi Jaune restaurant in the historical Marais district in Paris, one of the few Paris bistros serving horse dishes such as cured horse sausage and horse brain, head chef Otis Lebert says he too has noticed a surge in interest.
"But call me in three months and let's see if it is still the case," the chef said. (Reporting by Muriel Boselli; Writing by Michel Rose; Editing by Anthony Barker)