Heritage Turkeys: What You Need to Know (And Don't Delay; These Tasty Birds Are Going Fast)
Let's face it, you've more than likely had your fair share of Butterball turkeys. With Thanksgiving around the corner, we thought we'd introduce you to some special birds that offer a wonderful alternative to Butterballs and their ilk: Heritage turkeys. These birds have exactly what their name says: heritage. They are all-American turkeys that have been procreating since the early 20th century. Heritage turkeys set themselves apart from other run-of-the-mill gobblers in three different ways:
Photo Courtesy Epicurious Epicurious has a scrumptious recipe for Roast Heritage Turkey with Bacon-Herb and Cider Gravy.
1. They breed naturally
2. They live active lives outdoors (think turkeys playing tag in big open fields) and breed naturally
3. They plump up for human consumption at a slow rate -- it takes about 28 weeks on average.
All of these characteristics are what the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy uses to define Heritage breeds. Additionally, they are raised in a humane manner. They generally eat a vegetarian diet, are raised without any antibiotics or hormones, and, when processed for sale, do not have any preservatives added to them.
Their stellar resume translates into something very important for turkey consumers: happy birds, which makes for good meat, which makes for a good Thanksgiving dinner, which makes for happy families.
Taste-wise, Heritage birds are said to be much more flavorful then their large-breasted, mass-produced counterparts. Their white meat-to-dark meat ratio is about equal, and their dark meat tastes a lot like wild game.
While there are many more Heritage varieties today than there were in the late 20th century, thanks to an effort by several organizations to restore breeding populations, these birds still aren't easy to come by. This fact, along with its coveted flavor profile, means that Heritage turkeys cost a pretty penny. The most inexpensive birds cost $6 per pound, a steep hike from the usual $1-$2 per pound for those ubiquitous Butterballs. You get what you pay for, they say.