2014 Guide to Local and Heritage Turkeys
By Analiese Paik
Thanksgiving is around the corner and it’s time to order local and heritage turkeys. Pasture-raised turkeys from local farms, especially rare, heritage breeds, are highly coveted and in short supply, so it’s important to place your order right away to avoid disappointment.
While heritage breed turkeys are considerably more expensive than Broad-Breasted Whites, the once-yearly splurge is worth it when your family and guests tell you it’s the most flavorful turkey they’ve ever tasted.
Almost all the turkeys grown in the US are Broad-Breasted White, 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.
About ten years ago, a concerted effort was made to save these endangered, heritage breed turkeys from extinction by convincing consumers to buy them from the few farmers that were still raising them. Who can argue with flavor? The efforts of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and Slow Food to return heritage turkey breeds to their rightful place on our dining tables has been successful in that it’s now easier than ever to purchase one of these special turkeys for your Thanksgiving celebration.
The following heritage turkey breeds 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
- Royal Palm
- Slate or Blue Slate
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 and small breasts relative to supermarket turkeys. Heritage birds are raised on pasture on small sustainable farms, allowed to roam freely and forage, and take twice as long as industrial turkeys to mature. The price tag will reflect these additional costs. Note: You won’t typically find Heritage turkeys weighing more than 20-24 or so pounds.
Where to Buy a Local and Heritage Turkey in Fairfield County
On the Rocks Farm, Newtown, CT
This year, I’m excited to share a source for local, organic heritage turkeys right here in Fairfield County.
On the Rocks Farm in Newtown raises chickens, ducks and turkeys organically. Farmer Bill Pieragostini is raising 75 Bourbon Reds and Standard Bronze this year, half of which are sold to regular customers and shoppers at the Greenwich Farmers’ Market where the farm is a vendor. Heritage turkeys run $6 a pound and vary in weight from 12 to 20 pounds, much smaller than industrial Broad-Breasted Whites. They’re leggier too with less breast meat and overall more dark meat. If you’re looking for an authentic Thanksgiving flavor, this is it. Click here to read our feature article containing more information and ordering instructions.
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 again 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!
Connecticut Farm Fresh Express (CTFFE), an online seller of exclusively CT Grown foods, is selling fresh and frozen turkeys from two 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. Broad-Breasted Bronze, a Broad-Breasted White and American Bronze (heritage breed) cross, is available from Monument Hill Farm. These birds are pasture raised without the use of chemicals or antibiotics. Whole, breast or legs are available fresh frozen for $6.50 per pound. Please follow the ordering instructions on the CTFFE website carefully when you place your order with a $20 deposit now through November 20. Home deliveries are on the Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
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. Visit the website to learn more and place an order. Read our feature story about Mike’s Organic Delivery.
Saugatuck Craft Butchery, Westport
Saugatuck Craft Butchery is offering Heritage turkeys and Broad-Breasted White turkeys from BN Ranch in California this year. Both are fed an antibiotic and hormone free vegetarian diet throughout their lives, and given unlimited free access to the outdoors with room to explore, fly and socialize as they would in nature. The birds have never been frozen.
Here’s what to expect from each breed:
Heritage Turkeys – $10.99/lb (you cannot pick and will not be told the breed)
– A specialty turkey, from prized genetic stock available in limited quantities
– Meat has noticeably richer flavor and moist texture
– Higher price point because they grow more slowly, requiring more time, effort and feed to raise
– Harvested around 26 weeks of age, Heritage turkeys typically weigh between 8 and 16 pounds
Broad Breasted White Turkeys – $6.99/lb
– The most common on the market in the USA
– More mild flavor than heritage breeds
– Lower price point due to the fact that they mature quickly on relatively little feed
– Harvested around 16 weeks of age, White turkeys typically weigh 14 to 24 pounds
Because the turkeys are raised completely naturally, size variations are common and for that reason Craft takes orders within weight ranges rather than for an exact weight. They will do their best to accommodate your preference within a 4 lb. margin.
Place your order based on 0.5-0.75 lbs per person in order to have enough for the Thanksgiving feast with some left overs.
A $40.00 deposit is required to reserve your turkey either online or in store. When you pick up your turkey, you’ll pay the balance based on the exact weight of your bird.
Please indicate the following in “Special Instructions”:
– The date you intent on picking up your bird (Mon-24, Tues-25, Wed-26)
– Whether you’d like a bird that is lighter or heavier within the range
Please call the shop at 203-226-6328 x2 with any questions.