Thanksgiving: Enjoying a Heritage Turkey

Thanksgiving: Enjoying a Heritage Turkey

Thanksgiving: Enjoying a Heritage Turkey

Thursday, American families will dine on about 45-M turkeys, a small number of us with tastes for Real Fool will share a rare heritage turkey.

Note: Non-heritage breeds reproduce only through artificial insemination. For Broad Breasted Whites, natural reproduction is physically impossible because the male’s large breasts prevent it from mounting females.

Unlike the commercial breed heritage birds are smaller, grow slower, and have robust flavor. Their lineage traces back to the 1800’s, and unlike their industrially farmed cousins, they can and do reproduce naturally.

Choices for turkey in the supermarkets expand every year, from the Butterball to antibiotic-free, to free-range, to Qrganic, all of which are those are Broad Breasted Whites.

But, real foodies and gourmands seeking out and spending $10/pound or more a pedigreed turkey, citing better animal welfare enjoyed by breeds that are not hobbled by giant breasts, the need for biodiversity, and flavor.

Look out there are Fake heritage birds

“We’re faced with the issue that we knew was comingfake heritage turkeys,” said Roger Mastrude, founder of the Heritage Turkey Foundation.

Such allegations of fakery range from partially, probably heritage birds that lack proper American Poultry Association (APA) certification to the use of intentionally misleading marketing ploys such as the term “heirloom,” which can fool consumers looking for the real thing.

The APA, the country’s oldest livestock organization, started certifying breeder flocks as “standard bred” in Y 2015 so long as they met the body’s standards of perfection for any of its 8 recognized breeds, including Standard Bronze (pictured above) and Narragansett.

Licensed flock inspectors check for physical requirements of the breed, such as weight, and ascertain that no more than 2% of the birds have such growth defects as a deformed back or crooked keel bone that would affect market value.

So far, just 2 farmers in the USA have passed the inspections.

“APA is the only organization in America whose endorsement means anything,” says Patrick Martins of Heritage Foods USA, which sells meats from old breeds of livestock in an effort to conserve them.

He buys every bird that Frank Reese of Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch in Lindsborg, KA., will sell him, which Reese estimates will be about 7,000 this year.

The 2nd APA-certified flock is raised by Michelle Oswald of Old Time Farm, who sold 30 birds this year in Pittsburgh farmers markets.

“We only buy from Frank because he’s the only one we’re sure has 100 percent heritage genetics,” says Martins. The largest option, 20 to 22 pounds, is currently selling online for $219.

In Y 2016 Thanksgiving’s average turkey cost $1.42/pound.

Use of the word “heritage,” however, has been popular for more than a decade, and many retailers sell birds under the label.

Neither Mr. Martins nor the APA assert that only APA-certified birds are heritage, just that it is the only way to really know what you are buying.

D’Artagnan Inc., a purveyor of high-end and rare meats, for example, sells the Standard Bronze and Bourbon Red breeds, with the larger, 12 lb birds listed at $214.99.

CEO Ariane Daguin says her turkeys are not APA-certified but come through “privileged partnerships” with farmers in Lancaster County, PA.

She agrees that the term has been misappropriated at times but doesn’t think APA certification is necessary.

“The US Department of Agriculture (USDA),” which requires documentation for heritage poultry claims, “has done a pretty good job there—and I don’t say that often,” she says.

Ms. Daguin cautions, though, that the word “heritage” has meaning only if it comes right before the word “turkey.”

“There are some people who sell turkeys from ‘heritage farmers,’ and that does not mean anything,” she explains.

Whole Foods Markets, a unit of Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) sells non-APA certified heritage turkeys, too, bought from 2 well-known and respected farms, White Oak Pastures and Pitman Family Farms, for around $6/pound.  More controversially, it also sells “heirloom” turkeys ($3/pound) which are a mix of several breeds from the 1900’s, including the non-APA-recognized American Bronze, a predecessor to the commercial Broad Breasted White.

“It’s not as extreme in form as modern Frankenturkeys,” the Heritage Turkey Foundation’s Mastrude says of the American Bronze, “but it was the 1st move toward them.”

“It is all marketing techniques,” APA president John Monaco says of the term “heirloom.”

“If customers want a true heritage turkey, they’ve gotta buy something that says heritage on the label,” says Heidi Diestel, 1 of the farmers that supplies Whole Foods. “But we do think our American Heirloom Collection birds are really unique and delicious.”

Theo Weening, the global meat coordinator and buyer at Whole Foods Inc., defends the artificially inseminated heirlooms, saying they meet customer demand, are more active than Broad Breasted Whites and, like all Whole Foods meat, have Global Animal Partnership welfare ratings.

“With the heritage,” Mr. Weening says, “customers cook it, see black spots [from the feathers] and that there isn’t a lot of white meat, and, in many cases, get disappointed.”

For customers seeking a true heritage turkey, even without the APA certification, experts offer several tips.

Look for a bony breast and big, meaty legs on a small bird. If you are buying at a farmers market or from a small butcher that can name its supplier, ask the farmer how long it took to grow.

Heritage birds take about 6 months, compared to about 4 months for commercial varieties. And accept that the bird might not be 100% heritage, 10% is still better than 0%.

But the real thing is best, and it is worth paying $10.00/pound.

Remember, Thanksgiving is about Family, Not Football and Shopping

Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

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