(Written by Joanne from www.ForkandBottle.com)
About 4 years ago, right before Thanksgiving 2001, Marian Burros wrote about Heritage Turkeys in the New York Times. We were enthralled with the idea of saving the turkeys the pilgrims ate. She also said these turkeys tasted much better than supermarket turkeys, especially the dark meat. Meanwhile, for Thansgiving 2001, we ate our brined Organic Diestel Heidi Turkey (Diestel now also offers Heritage Turkeys).
The Spring 2002, we ordered our first heritage turkey from Slow Food in New York. When we ordered, we were given a non-guaranteed preference choice between breeds: Bourbon Red, American Bronze, Narragansett and a fourth breed (which I don’t remember at the moment). Based on the article, we chose Bourbon Red as our first choice.
If buying a turkey for the hallowed holiday by mail order didn’t daunt me, cooking a $120+ turkey certainly did. (I believe it was $70 + $50 Fedex shipping.) I trusted in the venerable Martha Stewart and chose her recipe for Turkey 101.
The Bourbon Red turkey was fantastic. It was likely eating turkey for the first time. The skin was golden red and crisp (thanks, Martha!) and the white meat succulent and the dark meat perfect. The meat had flavor and it was great on its own! Plus you didn’t have to brine it! (Although it is amazing what a pound of butter, and a bottle of white wine can do!)
Every year since then, we’ve sought out a heritage bird and have been rewarded. It’s gotten a bit less expensive for us to have that elusive heritage bird on our doorstep since that first encounter, but to us the results seem worth the expense. We were lucky in 2003 that Willie Bird Turkey in Santa Rosa began raising heritage birds and we were able to get our bourbon red by driving 15 minutes to Sebastopol, CA thereby saving the shipping charge. Last year we had a Mary’s Heritage Bourbon Red Turkey that was from a grocery store in Mill Valley…it was our least favorite of the three.
This year we’re going with a Bourbon Red from mail order company Heritage Foods USA. Heritage Foods USA is a project by Patrick Martins and Todd Wickstrom. Here’s a quote from their website:
ˮHeritage Foods USA was formed in 2001 as the sales and marketing arm for Slow Food’s Heritage Turkey Project, which helped double the population of heritage turkeys in the United States and upgraded the Bourbon Red turkey from “rare” to “watch” status on conservation lists. Now an independent company, Heritage Foods USA remains a sponsor of Slow Food and donates a portion of its profits to support Slow Food projects. Heritage Foods will assist Slow Food USA in the shipping of products promoted by Slow Food USA.ˮ
We’ve placed other orders with them throughout the year for lamb, pork and chicken and had great results.
This year our 19 lb+ turkey will likely come from Good Shepherd Farms in Kansas or any of the other five farms that Frank Reese oversees for the project. The price tag is more than you will pay locally, as they are FedEx’s to you. Consider that you are helping to save a breed from extinction. Consider that it tastes better than mass-produced turkey. Consider the cost per person. Consider it an investment in your and your children’s culinary future.
You can read more and/or order from Heritage Foods USA website. Heritage Foods USA also offers heritage turkeys year round but they are frozen.
To find a local source (and save the shipping) visit the main Heritage Turkey page at Slow Food.