Its time to talk turkey. The heritage variety, to be exact. These historic breeds, unaltered by modern agriculture, are heralded by devotees for their superior taste and sustainability.Since the time to order one of the coveted birds is now, we checked in with Craig Haney, livestock manager of theStone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, to find out everything a heritage turkey newbie needs to know.
First things first, why choose a heritage turkey?
Number one: flavor. Heritage breeds have more dark meat, and a more pronounced turkey flavor.Number two: Eat em to save em, you know that saying. To really raise animals in the numbers that you need to bring a breed back, you need to eat them.Number three: Youre supporting a small farm with good husbandry practices.
What makes your birds different?
We let our turkeys be turkeys. Turkeys are omnivores, and omnivores are naturally inquisitive. They have freedom to roam, they roost at night, they take dirt baths.
Obviously, theyre pricier than the regular variety. How come?
The poults are more rare, and more expensive they usually cost us about four times more. And they take about twice as long to grow and reach maturity.
You raise Broad Breasted Whites (what wed think of as regular turkeys) as well as the heritage Bourbon Reds. Whats the difference?
The Bourbon Red has a longer carcass, more like a wild turkey. They hold themselves upright. And they have a greater ratio of dark to white meat smaller breasts, and a different mouthfeel. Its not mushy, like a commercial bird. The hens reach about 9 pounds, and the toms reach 16 to 18 pounds.
How did you end up choosing Bourbon Reds over all other heritage breeds?
I started with lots of breeds, but I started to focus on the Bourbon Red because they have more consistency, and I just enjoy being around them. Theyre beautiful birds.
Are there any special tricks for cooking a heritage turkey?
Not really but they tend to cook more quickly than people anticipate. I think it might have something to do with density.
Would you say the birds are getting more popular?
Yes, for sure. We always sell out, but weve been selling out faster in recent years.
Can you recommend the best places to order heritage turkeys?
LocalHarvest and Heritage Foods USA are good resources. There are a couple of bigger places that nonetheless have good practices, Marys Turkeysand Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch. Frank Reese Jr. at Good Shepherd should be credited for keeping heritage turkeys going even during lean times.
Thanks, and good luck as we approach Thanksgiving season!
It really is our busiest time. I have to be on my A game!
Once youve placed your order, see our Roasted Heritage Turkey recipe for perfect results. And watch the video of The Martha Stewart Show visiting Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch.
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