The heritage of heritage Turkeys, and how to get one

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Naragansett Heritage Breed

We’ve all heard a lot about the benefits of biodiversity when it comes to purchasing fruits and vegetables. Think purple carrots, black radishes, russian blue potatoes, and other varietals that you encounter at your local farmers market, but can be hard to find elsewhere. Growing and enjoying many varieties of fruits and vegetables, not just those bred for grocery store uniformity, hardiness, etc is better for soil and pest resistance, and a great deal more fun. A great example is the thick-skinned, conventional waxed cucumber, so waxed to retain moisture, but not quite so tasty as the more delicate skinned English cucumber. Guess which travels better? The former, which is why, despite its lesser flavor, it is most commonly found on shelves.

As this awareness and appreciation for a broader palette of flavors and supporting less narrow ideas of what food “should” look like becomes more common, the philosophy has been finding its way onto grocery lists and restaurants featuring a more diverse array of creatures from the land, sea and sky.

Today is Thanksgiving, and over 50 million Turkeys will find themselves on holiday tables. While perhaps a true celebration of biodiversity might involve partaking in a Thanksgiving goat or duck (or even a bowl of lentils!), within the realm of the traditional turkey there are many more varieties than one will find in most grocery stores. Over 99% of Thanksgiving turkeys are the “Broad Breasted White,” which is bred consistently because of the large amount of white meat it produces, and this has long been America’s preference. But the other varieties farmers used to produce (and still produce on heritage farms) have a host of other benefits, such as a richer taste, beautifully colored feathers, ranging from lavender to deep gray, and enjoy longer and healthier lives (many of the Broad Breasted Whites become so top heavy they cannot stand up). Not only that, places like the Heritage Turkey Foundation are trying to prevent these other breeds of bird from going extinct entirely.

Heritage breeds do tend to have more darker meat (their daily exercise and foraging produces more dark meat) but this can be more deeply flavorful, or at least a change of pace. Who wants to do what everyone else is doing anyway?

Resources to find Heritage Turkeys include: Slow Food Chicago (including other types of game and poultry for Christmas and other holiday festivities), as well as Publican Quality Meats and Whole Foods, which also offer Heritage Turkeys for pick-up.

Whatever your Thanksgiving meal, we hope you have a wonderful holiday!