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Article from the San Francisco Chronicle


Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Picture of Owners of Mary's Turkeys with the Heritage Turkeys 

Heritage turkeys renew an American tradition

With names like Narragansett, Bourbon Red and Standard Bronze, an new-old style of turkey will hit markets in force this season -- the heritage turkey.

Heritage turkeys -- traditional, generally purebred, breeds -- are being raised by several ranchers and will be available at some Bay Area markets in time for Thanksgiving.

Heritage turkeys have less white breast meat and more thigh meat than the standard commercial turkey, the Broadbreasted White, which has been crossbred many times over to ensure a larger breast and more white meat. Many say the flavor of the heritage turkey is richer; it's often described as similar to duck.

The flavor difference is a result of the turkeys' breed, feed quality and length of life. Heritage turkeys are older, slaughtered at eight months instead of the usual four to five months.

Heritage birds -- at least the ones grown in California -- are free range, meaning they can roam in and out of the range pen. They are naturally active and flighty, so they stay smaller and grow more slowly than the Broadbreasted White, which cannot run, fly or lay eggs.

Mary's Turkeys, located in Madera County, is the main California supplier for heritage turkeys; Willie Bird and Diestel Family also offer the birds.

Willie Bird manager Beagle Brodsky says heritage birds have a stronger turkey flavor than regular Willie Bird turkeys. He attributes the price difference -- about $2 a pound more -- to the fact that heritage turkeys poults (baby turkeys) cost five times as much as regular turkey poults, take longer to raise and require more feed.

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and Slow Foods USA, a nonprofit that encourages the preservation of artisanal foods, are helping promote and market the breeds. They point out, however, that the term heritage is unregulated, and definitions of exactly what constitutes a heritage breed may vary.

Heritage turkeys can be roasted in the same way as a regular turkey. Because the dark meat can be a little tougher than standard dark meat, heritage turkeys benefit from brining. We'll have tips and recipes for brining turkeys in our Thanksgiving Food section on Nov. 17.

Heritage turkeys are $3.99-$4.29 per pound and can be ordered from Golden Gate Meat Co. in San Francisco; Draeger's Markets in San Mateo, Menlo Park and Los Altos; and Andronico's and Mollie Stone's throughout the Bay Area.

Berkeley Bowl in Berkeley sells them on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Or, order direct from growers: frozen turkeys from Mary's Farm, (888) 666- 8244; fresh turkeys from Willie Bird, (877) 494-5592. Shipping charges are additional.

-- Anna Morfit