heritage turkeys

Cook the Tastiest Bird Ever This Thanksgiving!

Heritage turkeys boast an exceptional taste only hinted at in supermarket birds, and creating demand for them helps keep the historic birds from going extinct.

By Leah Zerbe


If you've never ordered a heritage-breed turkey for Thanksgiving, you've never truly enjoyed Thanksgiving. "This is what turkey's supposed to taste like," explains food writer Marian Burros, retired from The New York Times. "When you taste it, you think, 'Oh, this is why people like turkey. It's not just something to put gravy on.'"

These heritage breeds aren't just a foodie's novelty. They're rare birds that once dominated small-scale American agriculture but have since been replaced by a few specialized breeds that have been selected by factory farmers for maximum meat output and their ability to survive cramped, dirty, inhumane conditions. But some agricultural researchers and farmers are working to change all that. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy is helping to save 12 breeds of turkeys that are nearing extinction in an effort to preserve the genetic diversity that once allowed small American farmers to raise animals unique to their environments and their customers' needs.

Yes, they are more expensive, ranging from $4 to more than $10 a pound. But if you have the means, investing in a heritage breed turkey this Thanksgiving could save an American farm! (And clearly, you'll also be supporting your taste buds, too!)

Photo credit: Ayrshire Farm

Published on: November 5, 2010
Updated on: November 13, 2012

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Can't Find (or quite afford) a Heritage Turkey?

Consider a standard hybrid "supermarket type" broad breasted white (BBW) turkey -- but one that was raised out on pasture by a local farmer. While it's Momma was artificially inseminated (making the breed unsustainable in the long run) a pasture-raised BBW is far more tasty and moist than it's confinement-raised siblings in the grocer's cold case are, it led a much healthier and happier (we are pretty sure the ones on our farm enjoy themselves) life, and pasturing improves the land rather than creating piles of polluting manure to get rid of. Local Harvest can help you find a source in your local area, but don't wait -- many farms are already sold out this close to Thanksgiving.


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