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Consider free-range, heritage turkeys

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Where to buy

This late in the year, you may have to check a few places to find a free-range or heritage turkey. Many were pre-ordered months ago, but if you are persistent, you’ll find something, even if The Butcher & Larder and Publican Quality Meats are sold out. Remember, BN Ranch will be selling free-range and heritage turkeys online (bnranchtotable.com) all the way up until Thanksgiving.

» Mint Creek Farm has free-range turkeys (fresh and frozen) for sale online (mintcreekfarm.com) that you can pick up Saturday at Green City Market.

» Green Grocer Chicago (greengrocerchicago.com) and the Dill Pickle Co-Op (dillpickle.coop) are great stores to look for fresh, local turkeys.

» Contact Arnold’s Farm (arnoldsfarm.com) about free-range turkeys.

» Whole Foods offers a range of organic and free range birds; pre-order them at the stores or online at wholefoodsmarket.com.

Other farms you can contact

» Caveny Farm: cavenyfarm.com

» Slagel Family Farm: slagelfamilyfarm.com

» TJ’s Free Range Poultry: www.greencitymarket.org/farmers/farmer.asp?id=36

» Meadow Haven Farm: meadowhavenfarm.com

Anthony Todd

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Updated: April 14, 2014 4:48PM



Maybe you’re a fan of dark meat, or a lover of real, strong turkey flavor. With free-range turkeys and heritage brands, local farmers and butchers in Chicago are giving home cooks more options than the average store-bought turkey.

This year, Rob Levitt, owner of The Butcher & Larder, is selling turkeys raised on the pasture and never fed anything artificial, from Gunthorp Farms. “The big difference between [a frozen one] and the turkeys that I get: One of them is allowed to live a life, and the other is a manufactured product,” Levitt said.

At about $5 a pound, these turkeys aren’t cheap, but they’re still fairly reasonable. For home cooks, these particular turkeys won’t be too difficult to handle. They’re the same breed as most commercial turkeys (the famous Broad Breasted White) and can be treated the same way in your kitchen.

If you’re looking for a real turkey adventure, you have to move into the realm of the heritage turkey. These older breeds of turkeys were on the verge of disappearing until organizations like Slow Food started helping to connect farmers with consumers who wanted a more interesting bird. They’ve got exotic names like Bourbon Red and Spanish Black and boast bright, vibrant colors to match their names. Heritage turkeys offer more dark meat and have a stronger flavor. They can be tricky to find; your local supermarket likely won’t have them.

“I think I’m more excited about turkeys than most people,” laughed Cosmo Goss of Publican Quality Meats. PQM has teamed up with Kyle Kehrli, a farmer in Winthrop, Iowa, to offer Chicago consumers heritage turkeys. “They’re not chuck full of a bunch of artificial stuff,” said Goss. “They’re not that Americanized turkey that has larger breasts and more white meat to appease the palate. The meat feels different in your mouth because there’s not as much water in it. There’s way more natural flavor in the bird. You don’t have to brine it for three days with rosemary and chills to make it taste like something.”

Kehrli has been raising poultry for years, and right now has three breeds of heritage turkey: the Standard Bronze, the Narragansett and the White Holland. The biggest difference between raising these and raising the Broad Breasted Whites, according to Kehrli? “They are the greatest escape artists that ever walked this Earth,” he said. After a while, Kehrli gave up even trying to fence them in. “Our place is three acres and they roam all day and we put them in at night in an old barn just to protect them from predators.” That’s seriously free-range turkey.

Kehrli insists there’s a real difference between these and the standard turkey. “They hold their moisture better, there’s more dark meat. I was a little pessimistic at first, thinking there wouldn’t be a taste difference but it’s definitely there. These breeds have been bred for that taste.”

Bill Niman, famed advocate for sustainable meat and owner of BN Ranch in Marin County, Calif., ships his heritage turkeys all over the country.

“My wife and I are trying to create a model farm and pioneer some new methods of producing food,” explained Niman. “You have to control it from conception to plate.” You can order turkeys from Niman at bnranchtotable.com.

His birds are raised free-range, with plenty of access to the outdoors. Heritage turkeys, unlike their white cousins, can actually fly, so they live in a netted outdoor aviary. BN Ranch, like Gunthorp Farms, also raises free-range Broad Breasted Whites, mainly to satisfy consumer demand. “We have some really strong key customers that were buying Broad Breasted White, and they wanted to buy them raised and processed the way that we raise our heritage turkey,” Niman explained. “We didn’t want to prevent anyone who wanted a bird raised humanely to have one.”



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