I can’t over-emphasize the surprise I had last year when biting into my first bit of free-range, organic, all-natural turkey that I’d stuffed and roasted for a Thanksgiving-like feast with friends: Savory. Succulent. Abundantly flavorful. These are words that you seldom think of when you think of turkey breast meat, right? That’s why we traditionally smother it with things like pucker-sweet cranberry sauce and overpowering gravy, and why homes across the country have taken up the turkey brining trend with such fervent approval, right? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: I did not even brine this beast. Still, it had to have the best turkey meat I’ve ever tasted. I simply cannot overstate this reality, and furthermore, what it means for humane animal raising practices and the small, local farms that support them when you purchase this type of meat and poultry. That’s why I wrote a piece for Brooklyn Based all about where to get your “gobble gobble.”
I wonder why “heritage” hasn’t become the buzz word with poultry and pork the way “Kobe” and “Wagyu” has with beef. Sure, the latter two words are refreshingly exotic. “Heritage,” by contrast, sounds refreshingly homely. And that may be just the difference. Heritage turkeys, as mentioned in the article, were once prized by American farmers for their richness of flavor, beauty and bounty of meat to bone. But because of the industrialized farming techniques of the 1960s and onward, they gradually became almost extinct. What took over in its place were instead genetically engineered, big-breasted cloned animals that couldn’t live to be very old because of health problems due to the modifications — notably, becoming too heavy in the chests to walk properly. (This is similar to the plight of pork discussed in the pig butchering post.) What’s happened as of recently is a rekindled appreciation for slow, quality-raised meats, usually taking place just in small family-owned farms. I hope to get in on the trend by ordering a heritage bird this year to share with my family on Thanksgiving.
The turkey I carved up last year, in the photo, was ordered through the Brooklyn restaurant Marlow & Sons. They’re one of the vendors listed in the article, and a good place to grab a bird if you’re wise enough to score one before they’re sold out. But even if you aren’t in Brooklyn or anywhere near New York City, you can still place pre-orders on heritage and free-range turkeys online, through D’Artagnan or Heritage Foods, or by checking with your local butcher or farmers’ market. If you can get down to Brooklyn on November 14th, though, there’s another treat: Fairway Market, also listed in the article, is holding a series of demonstrations and tastings open to the public in their flagship Red Hook store. The schedule follows below. Best part, out-of-towners will still get to watch the spectacles from their homes, as the store has recently launched a new website called Discover Fairway, and the demonstrations will be taped for “webisodes” on the site.
I realize that in this downturn-trodden economy, the prices between heritage or free-range and conventional turkey might be a hurdle for many. We all have budgets to cut this holiday season. While these meats remain relatively pricey, I might suggest trying some of the other tips suggested here a while back, keeping in mind the last one, “splurge for good reason.” Because, you know, we’re all going to splurge at some point still.
November 14th Schedule at Fairway Market (480-500 Van Brunt Street, Brooklyn):
8:00 am- Local Seafood with Tony Maltese
9:00 am- How to Carve a Turkey with Ray Venezia (Tasting)
10:00 am- Crown Roast discussion with Ray Venezia (Tasting)
11:00 am- Chocolate Cupcake Cooking Demonstration with Mitchel London (Tasting)
12:00 pm- Angel Hair Pasta with Tomato Sauce Cooking Demonstration with Mitchel London (Tasting)
1:00 pm- Cheese Discussion with Steve Jenkins (Tasting)
2:00 pm- How to Best Use Your Thanksgiving Leftovers with Alexa Johnson (Tasting)
3:00 pm- Coffee Roasting Demonstration with Benny Lanfranco and Richie Pascale
4:00 pm- Olive Oil Discussion with Brian Riesenburger (Tasting if interested)
5:00 pm- Organic Produce Discussion with Peter Romano