Heritage Turkeys: Should I Buy One?
When I was younger, turkey was either found in the deli or in the freezer aisle, frozen and covered with plastic netting. The one you had sitting on your table on Thanksgiving was pretty much the same as what your neighbors were having. These days, with the increasing availability of fresh, free-range, hormone- and antibiotic-free, certified organic and heritage turkeys, things have changed. But what exactly is a ‘heritage bird,’ anyway? Here’s the lowdown.
What Exactly Are They?
Heritage turkeys are the birds of yesteryear, early relatives of the industrially-raised and commercially dominant Broad Breasted White. Unlike these conventional birds, heritage turkeys are made up of diverse breeds such as Narragansett, Standard Bronze and Jersey Buffs. These birds are bred from older living stock, and resemble the kinds of turkeys that roamed free hundreds of years ago before the turkey was widely commercialized.
How Do They Taste?
Compared to conventional birds, heritage turkeys are fed a more diverse diet and live longer lives. Fans of the birds say this makes the meat more moist and flavorful.
How Much Does It Cost?
There’s no getting around the fact that you’re going to pay for that extra flavor. Heritage birds are an investment. In fact, they can cost up to four times the price of a conventional turkey, but many say the flavor is well worth it.
Heritage birds tend to live in better conditions than conventional birds, as they are allowed more space to roam. And because they are not mass-produced, they are also less likely to suffer the side effects of selective breeding, such as disease vulnerability and inability to fly and mate. Finally, the demand for heritage turkeys is higher than it has ever been, breeds are coming back from near extinction and diversifying the turkey marketplace.
Wrapping Up: A Heritage Worth Preserving
These special birds aren’t cheap, but if you can spare a few more dollars this season, heritage turkeys are worth having on your table. Besides tastier meat, buying the birds helps support their continued farming, and alleviates some ethical and environmental concerns commonly associated with commercial breeding. So get in touch with your nearby butcher or specialty food shop to order a heritage bird before your neighbors gobble them all up!