Yes, they are more expensive, ranging from $4 to more than $10 a pound. But if you have the means, investing in a heritage breed turkey this Thanksgiving could save an American farm! (And clearly, you'll also be supporting your taste buds, too!)
Photo credit: Ayrshire Farm
Reason #1: Taste
In Burros' NYT blind taste test, she found that the dark meat from heritage breeds was several shades darker and juicier than that of supermarket turkeys that come from industrial farming operations. Heritage breed white meat also provides a slightly better flavor than supermarket brands. Bourbon Red, pictured here, is Burros' favorite heritage turkey (though she says they're all good).
Photo: Bourbon Red
Reason #2: It's Humane
"Commercial turkeys have joint and cardiovascular problems because their heart and lungs are an appropriate size for a heritage turkey, but not one twice that size," explains Bender. "Because the birds grow so fast, they put on muscle before their bones and ligaments are ready to carry that type of weight." The heritage breed Narragansett, pictured, grows at a steady pace for six to seven months, so the bird retains ability to behave naturally while living outside.
Reason #3: Food Security
Good Shepherd Poultry farmer Frank Reese and conservation groups have been crucial in restoring heritage turkey flocks. And to keep building demand, consumers need to be part of the equation. "Even though these birds are rare, in order to save them, we have to eat them," says Bender. "This has been the job of the turkey, if we take that job away from it, it can't survive in a zoo. They can live there, but they don't remain a genetically robust, healthy population. Create demand. Enjoy turkeys."
Photo: Royal Palm, courtesy of Jeannette Beranger/ALBC
Find a Heritage Turkey
1. Visit Local Harvest to see if any farmers in your area raise heritage breed turkeys.
2. Ayrshire Farm in Virginia is sold out of fresh turkeys this year but has a few frozen heritage turkeys that were once part of the farm's flock of over 3,000 heritage birds. They are certified organic and certified humane.
3. Heritage Foods USA sells farmers' heritage breed turkeys, too.
Photo: Jersey Buff, courtesy of Jeannette Beranger/ALBC
Heritage Turkey Cooking Tips
Here are some tips from Bender:
• Slow, moist heat is the key.
• Pay attention to your bird in the oven. Heritage breeds require less cooking time than factory birds.
• Cook at a lower temperature, around 325 degrees.
• Break the skin away from the flesh and place a pat of butter there.
• Use a folded cheesecloth dipped in turkey juice to baste.
• If you don't care about cooking the more perfect-looking turkey, cook it flipped over. The juices from the fattier dark meat will moisten the trimmer white meat.
• If you use a stuffing, consider trying something that provides moisture, like onions, carrots, or apples.
• You can cover the legs and sides with foil because they finish baking faster.
Photo: White Holland, courtesy of Jeannette Beranger/ALBC