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
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.