You live for the farmers market and have started checking out grass-fed meats. Maybe you're a history buff to boot, fascinated by foods from a bygone era. You spend weeks thinking about the menu for the family Thanksgiving feast, which you helm, naturally. This year, why not forgo the supermarket turkey, and seek out a heritage breed?
Though typically smaller than commercially-raised turkeys, heritage turkeys are both leaner and more flavorful.
They're also generally raised with great care - the farmers who raise these slower-growing breeds pride themselves on allowing the birds to live and eat as they would in nature - roaming free, eating grass, pecking for insects, and even reproducing naturally (commercial turkeys are sterile). Best of all, because they come from bloodlines hundreds of years old, dining on heritage turkey gives us a chance to experience what a Thanksgiving feast may have tasted like when the country was far younger, and the holiday was still evolving.
Heritage Foods USA
A favored supplier to chefs and butchers alike (Mario Batali and Ottomanelli & Sons are fans), Heritage Foods USA sells heritage turkeys descended from bloodlines dating to the mid-1800's. The birds come in sizes ranging from 8 to 22 pounds, are raised humanely, and carry Animal Welfare Approved certification. Kosher turkeys are available as well; just specify your needs in the comment box when ordering.
Fresh turkeys, which come with the neck and gizzards, can sell out quickly, but frozen heritage turkeys are available as well (the latter are a good option if you don't want to be tied to a November 23rd delivery date). Buy online at heritagefoodsusa.com.
D'Artagnan may be best known for its foie gras and pâtés, but it's also a great go-to for wild game, and, it so happens, for heritage turkeys.
D'Artagnan's birds come from Standard Bronze and Bourbon Red stock; the free-range turkeys are sustainably farm-raised and grow on a natural diet of native grasses, seeds, and insects. The hormone- and antibiotic-free turkeys ship fresh. Order at dartagnan.com.
Rainbow Ranch Farms
California-based Rainbow Ranch is a private farm that grows several varieties of heritage turkey, including rare and endangered breeds, such as Royal Palm and Rio Grande Wild. The farm prides itself on "doing it nature's way" - treating its turkeys humanely, and raising its grass-fed, free-range birds without medications, hormones, animal by-products, or antibiotics. Small turkeys are available, which makes these a good choice for intimate Thanksgiving celebrations.
Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch
Good Shepherd Turkey Ranch offers free-range pasture-raised heritage turkeys. The ranch adheres to strict animal welfare standards in raising its hormone- and antibiotic-free, vegetarian-fed birds. Buy online at goodshepherdpoultryranch.com.