Where to find heritage turkeys and how to cook them
Heritage turkeys are birds the way nature intended. The turkeys found in most stores are the product of breeding and science which results in huge birds that grow quickly at the expense of flavor and texture. Heritage birds are different. They have not been bred for size, but rather to preserve their original line. The result is a bird that is far more flavorful than a store bought turkey, with an unfortunate associated increase in cost.
However, that cost will be more than worth it when you serve your heritage turkey. So, if you like the idea of serving a natural bird this year, here’s a guide to buying them and cooking them.
Buying heritage turkey
The first step to cooking a heritage turkey is finding where to buy it. It is a rare store, even Whole Foods, that carries heritage turkeys. So, before you journey to any stores, call ahead and see if they sell heritage birds. If you cannot find any stores that do, ask if they special order. If you cannot find any that will, your best bet is the Internet.
There are several sites that sell heritage poultry online. One place is Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch, a dedicated heritage turkey farm, that has won awards for its poultry. You can find them at www.goodshepherdpoultryranch.com. You can also go to the Heritage Turkey Foundation’s website or Local Harvest for a list of sites.
Preparing heritage turkey
Once you have your turkey, though, the journey is only half over. Now you have to cook it, which can be a challenge if you are not prepared. Part of the reason that you go with a heritage turkey is because it doesn’t taste like any store bought bird. As a side effect, it also means that heritage turkeys don’t cook like any other bird.
Why is this? Every store bought turkey comes from one line of birds. That is why the USDA can provide guidelines for how to cook any turkey you buy (they’re all the same.) Heritage birds, on the other hand, come from many different species each with their own cooking instructions. This means that when it comes time to cook the bird, you shouldn’t follow the advice of any website, but rather the specific instructions of the farm that produced the turkey.
In fact, if you turkey does not come with instructions, call the people who raised it and ask. Then, unlike the directions on a store bought bird, follow them.
Of course, there is one rule of turkey cookery you should always follow, heritage or not. Always brine your bird (soak it in salt water) for twenty-four hours before cooking it. Heritage turkeys have great flavor, but a brine never hurts
Good luck with your heritage turkey. If you can find one and cook it the way the company says, it will be the best bird you’ve ever had.