Before supermarkets and distributors made the Broad Breasted White turkey the dominant bird on the market and the turkey most Americans are familiar with, diverse breeds such as the Bourbon Red and Jersey Buffs offered families a turkey with greater flavor and texture. Now such turkeys, known as Heritage Breeds or “standard” turkeys are making a move to be on your table this Thanksgiving.
Prized for their rich flavor and beautiful plumage, Heritage Turkeys are the ancestors of the common Broad-breasted White industrial breed of turkey that comprises 99.99% of the supermarket turkeys sold today. But the Heritage Breeds still exist and are making a comeback.
With rich tasting meats more moist and flavorful than the mass produced large-breasted turkeys of today, Heritage Breeds owe their taste to diverse diets and extended life-spans.
Dining on fresh grass and insects, these birds exercise and even help control farmer’s pest problems. And while large corporations have dominated turkey production and breeding since the 1960’s, choosing the Broad Breasted Whites because of high breast meat production in a short period, Heritage Breeds have been quietly gaining a renewed market and respect due to their flavor and superior biological diversity.
Raising Heritage Breeds is more costly and time consuming than raising White Breasted Toms. While supermarket turkeys grow to an average of 32 pounds over 18 weeks, Heritage birds take anywhere from 24-30 to reach their market weight. But those who have tasted Heritage Breeds say the cost-and the wait-are well worth it.