2013 Guide to Local and Heritage Turkeys

Note: For our national buying guide to Heritage turkeys, click here.

by April Guilbault and Analiese Paik

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, our best advice is to consult this guide and place your order as soon as possible. (Millstone Farm and Stone Barns are sold out! Sport Hill Farm is no longer accepting orders.)

Heritage turkeys at BN Ranch are sold at Saugatuck Craft Butchery in Westport. Photo c/o Sam Garwin

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.
Roasted turkey is the centerpiece of Thanksgiving meals. 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 stuffed bird always takes longer to cook. 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.

The Black turkey originated in Europe as a direct descendant of the Mexican turkeys carried home with explorers in the 1500s. 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 Slate or Blue Slate variety was formally recognized in 1874 by the American Poultry Associationt and is growing in popularity according to the Slow Food USA Ark of Taste.. Photo c/o Slow Food USA's Ark of Taste

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 and Heritage Turkey

This list will be updated through Thanksgiving.

Saugatuck Craft Butchery, Westport

*Order soon! These fine turkeys will only be available via pre-order (at the store, online or via phone). Quantities are limited and orders will be taken starting Tuesday, October 8th

Saugatuck Craft Butchery is offering Heritage turkeys from BN Ranch again this year. Bill and Nicolette Niman‘s ranch in Bolinas, CA 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 turkeys domesticated in the midwest in the 1920s. On 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.

Offering the BN Ranch turkeys is Saugatuck Craft’s one exception to their policy of exclusively sourcing within 100 miles of Westport, Connecticut. Broad-Breasted Whites from BN Ranch ($6.99/lb) and Heritage Breed birds ($10.99/lb) will be available.

Saugatuck Craft Butchery, 580 Riverside Ave, Westport, CT (203) 226-6328

Sport Hill Farm, Easton, CT (no longer accepting orders for 2013)

Sport Hill Farm will be carrying turkeys from Koch’s Turkey Farm in Pennsylvania. Founded by Lowell and Elizabeth Koch in 1953, for over half a century, the farm is nestled on 60 acres in the beautiful open-sky country of Lewistown Valley, Pennsylvania. Now the farm is carefully managed by second generation family members.

Koch’s free range turkeys are fed a vegetarian diet and meet the very strict Certified Humane® guidelines and Farm Animal Welfare Standards for turkeys.

Fill out this form and return it to Patti Popp at Sport Hill. Pick ups will be at the farm, 596 Sport Hill Road, Easton, CT from 9am – 6pm; Monday 11/25, Tuesday 11/26, and Wednesday 11/27.

Naturally grown broad-breasted whites are $3.39/lb; naturally grown Heritage Bronze are $3.79/lb; and Certified Organic broad-breasted whites are $4.59/lb.

Millstone Farm, Wilton, CT  SOLD OUT!*

*Mark the calendar for next year and be sure to sign up for their emails, which will give advance notice for ordering deadlines. Millstone gets their turkeys in the spring, so you can also contact them then, or in August, when folks start thinking ahead to Thanksgiving.

If you’re curious to try Millstone’s popular turkeys, the Dressing Room Restaurant in Westport, CT will be serving them around Thanksgiving. Contact the restaurant for details.

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.

Millstone Farm, 180 Millstone Road, Wilton, CT (203) 834.2605

Ox Hollow Farm, Roxbury, CT

Order your pasture-raised, Broad-Breasted White turkey directly from Ox Hollow Farm at the Westport Farmers’ Market.  Pick up your fresh turkey on Wednesday, November 27 (the day before Thanksgiving) directly from the farm at the special holiday farmers’ market being held that day at their regular Imperial Avenue location. Expect to give a deposit and your contact information when placing an order.

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 (more information 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 $4.99 per lb. 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 15. 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.

Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, Pocantico Hills, NY SOLD OUT!

Nestled in the beautiful Pocantico Hills in Westchester, the Stone Barns Center aims to grow and teach people about sustainable food systems–and they raise turkeys, too! The birds roam freely and graze on bugs and organic grasses and feed.

Varieties include Broad Breasted Whites, the turkey most known to Americans ($5/lb; 14 to 24 lbs) and Heritage Bourbon Reds, a historic breed with a rich flavor that grows slowly and takes more time and effort to raise ($8.75/lb; 8 to 16 lbs).

General turkey sales to the public begin October 30th at 9am. Stone Barns “Gardener” level members can order beginning October 16th.

Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, 630 Bedford Road, Pocantico Hills, NY  (914) 366-6200.

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