2012 Guide to Local and Heritage Turkeys

By Analiese Paik

See our 2013 Guide to Local and Heritage Turkeys here.

While it’s true that buying pasture-raised turkeys from local farms as well as Heritage breed turkeys has gotten easier, some advance planning is still required. Since these turkeys are highly coveted and in short supply, my best advice is to consult this guide and place your order as soon as possible.

Turkey Cooking Advice

Roast turkey is traditionally the centerpiece of Thanksgiving meals to honor the wild turkeys served at the first celebration in 1621. Source a local or Heritage breed turkey to ensure the best tasting bird.

Turkeys are tricky to cook because the breast meat is always cooked through before the thighs are. Every chef I have spoken to advises removing the thighs and roasting them longer than the rest of the turkey to avoid overcooking the breast. There’s no undoing overdone! So whether you cut off the legs before or after roasting, cook low and slow at 325 degrees, and take the turkey out of the oven when it reaches 150 degrees. Let it rest tented in foil and the temperature should gradually rise by 10 degrees or more. If any juices are not running clear as you begin to carve the bird, return the pieces to the oven until they do. Note: A stuff bird always takes longer to cook. Always take the temperature of the stuffing to make sure it’s reached 165 degrees when removing the turkey from the oven. If it has not, remove the stuffing from the cavity and spoon it into a casserole, then bake it until it reaches 165. I prefer cooking the stuffing as a side dish that even my vegetarian relatives can enjoy and filling the cavity with aromatics instead.

A Word about Heritage Turkeys

According to Slow Food USA's Ark of Taste, the Black turkey originated in Europe as a direct descendant of the Mexican turkeys brought back by explorers in the 1500s. The turkey made the voyage back to the Americas with early European colonists where it was crossed with Eastern wild turkeys to create the Black. Photo c/o Slow Food USA.

Almost all the turkeys grown in the US are broad-breasted whites, an industrial breed created with the singular goal of producing a bird with more white meat that matures as quickly as possible. Although these birds don’t taste like much when grown in confinement on commercial farms, they have become so popular that other breeds of turkeys nearly became extinct. Less than 10 years ago, a concerted effort was made to save these endangered Heritage breeds by convincing consumers to buy them from the few farmers that were still raising them. While Heritage birds are considerably more expensive than broad-breasted whites, the once-yearly splurge is worth it when guests tell you it’s the most flavorful turkey they’ve ever tasted.

Not only are Heritage turkeys richer and more flavorful, they’re part of our cultural and culinary patrimony. These are the turkeys that generations before us ate before broad-breasted whites became ubiquitous. Heritage turkeys bear a close resemblance to their wild ancestors, so expect long and lean-looking birds with a lot of dark meat. Heritage birds are raised on pasture on small sustainable farms, allowed to roam freely and forage, are supplemented with vegetarian or organic feed, and take twice as long as broad-breasted whites to mature. The price tag will reflect these additional costs. Note: You won’t typically find Heritage turkeys weighing more than 24 or so pounds.

The Naragansett is named for Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island where it was first developed by early colonists who crossed Eastern Wild turkeys with domesticated European turkeys (that were originally brought to Europe from Mexico) according to Slow Food USA. photo c/o Slow Food USA

I’m happy to report that the efforts of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and Slow Food to return Heritage turkey breeds to their rightful place on our dining tables have been successful and it’s now easier than ever to purchase one of these special turkeys for your Thanksgiving celebration. The following Heritage turkey varieties are cataloged in Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste and some are recognized as either “threatened” or “endangered”. It may sound strange, but the only way to save them is to eat them. This year’s demand for these rare turkeys will influence next year’s decisions by breeders and farmers about raising them.

  • American Bronze
  • Black, also referred to as Norfolk Black and Black Spanish
  • Bourbon Red
  • Jersey Buff
  • Midget White
  • Narragansett
  • Royal Palm
  • Slate or Blue Slate

Where to Buy a Local or Heritage Turkey

This list will be updated through Thanksgiving.

Ox Hollow Farm, Roxbury, CT

Order your pasture-raised, Broad-Breasted White turkey directly from Ox Hollow Farm on Thursday, November 15, at the Westport Farmers’ Market.  Pick up your fresh turkey on Wednesday, November 21 (the day before Thanksgiving) directly from the farm at the special holiday farmers’ market being held that day at their regular Imperial Avenue location from 10-2. Expect to give a deposit and your contact information.

Ekonk Hill Turkey Farm, Moosup, CT

Ekonk Hill is the largest grower of free-range, pasture-raised turkeys in the state and this year their turkeys are available for home delivery through CT Farm Fresh Express CTFEE (see more below). While the breed is Broad-Breasted White, they taste nothing like supermarket turkeys from industrial farms. These turkeys are raised on pasture where they forage for bugs and insects and are raised without antibiotics and hormones. For anyone accustomed to eating store-bought turkeys, these are an excellent step up and a vote for local food!

CT Farm Fresh Express (CTFFE)

Connecticut Farm Fresh Express (CTFFE), an online seller of exclusively CT Grown foods, is selling fresh and frozen turkeys from several CT farms for home delivery. Delivery fees vary depending upon where you live and are calculated when you place your order online. Fresh (not frozen) Broad-Breasted Whites from Ekonk Hill Turkey Farm (see above) are $4.80 per lb for. CTFFE is also offering fresh, free-range, Broad Breasted Bronze (a White-Heritage Bronze hybrid) turkeys for $4.80 per pound and Heritage breed turkeys from Monument Hill Farm in Andover. Please note that the Heritage breeds are small, only 8-10 pounds each, and cost $75-$94. Please follow the ordering instructions on the CTFFE website carefully when you place your order. Home deliveries are on the Monday or Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

Mike’s Organic Delivery

Mike’s Organic Delivery is an online seller of NY and CT Grown foods that delivers to your door. Mike serves Greenwich, Riverside, Cos Cob, Old Greenwich, Stamford, Darien, and New Canaan and is accepting orders for fresh (not frozen), pasture-raised, Broad-Breasted White turkeys from Hemlock Hill Farm through Friday, November 16. Visit the website to learn more and place an order. Check out our CSA Guide to learn about Mike’s organic winter CSA and a la carte ordering options. Read our feature story about Mike’s Organic Delivery.

Saugatuck Craft Butchery, Westport

Saugatuck Craft Butchery is offering Heritage turkeys from BN Ranch again this year, that’s Bill and Nicolette Niman‘s ranch in Bolinas, CA that grows chicks for Heritage turkey farmers across the country. Saugatuck Craft Butcher’s owner Ryan Fibiger calls the Nimans “true pioneers in sustainable farming and raising animals according to the principals on which we built Craft Butchery” and points out that the ranch is”raising some of the most unique and sought after birds in the country from the bloodlines of some of the original Heritage breeds.”  According to BN Ranch, their Heritage turkeys are direct descendants of five distinct old breeds  – Standard Bronze, Narragansett, Bourbon Red, White Holland, and Spanish Black – from Frank Reese’s Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch in Lindsborg, Kansas. Frank Reese is a renowned breeder of American Poultry Association (APA) approved breeds and is recognized as a crusader in the movement to conserve Heritage turkeys. His turkeys, and those of farmers associated with his ranch, are otherwise only available to our area through Heritage Food USA, which ships turkeys via FedEx Overnight (add $45 to the cost of the turkey!!!!). On the Niman’s ranch the breeding flock is allowed to roam freely on grassy pastures most of the year, grazing and foraging to supplement their all-natural, vegetarian diet. This is not a large-scale industrial farm and the Nimans themselves are raising the animals. They are never fed antibiotics or other chemicals to promote growth or replace good animal husbandry. Broad-Breasted Whites from BN Ranch are also available.

Saugatuck Craft Butchery, 575 Riverside Ave, Westport, CT 06880. Email: info@craftbutchery.com; http://craftbutchery.com/home/

Sold Out!: Millstone Farm, Wilton, CT

We gave you the heads up about Millstone’s turkeys as month ago (here) so we hope you’ve jumped on this because they’re about to sell out. Heritage turkeys, including Narragansett and Royal Palm, will be ready just in time for Thanksgiving. Farmer Annie Farrel said these breeds are physically active and known for their excellent foraging abilities. The $8 per pound price tag reflects the additional costs of raising heritage breeds (remember they take twice as long as broad-breasted whites to mature). Order now by emailing katie@millstonefarm.org with the number of turkeys you’d like, and your name will go on their list in the order in which it is received. Orders are filled on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Millstone Farm is a 75-acre working farm in Wilton, CT. They are helping to rebuild our food community through small scale agriculture, educational activities, and events. The farm raises pastured heirloom breed sheep, pigs, and poultry, and grow vegetables for a CSA, local chefs, and family-owned markets. Pickling and Nutrient Dense Gardening workshops are coming up!

Millstone Farm, 180 Millstone Road, Wilton, CT 06897; 203.834.2605; http://millstonefarm.org/index.html

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