There are a handful of farmers who, in the past twenty years, have been instrumental in changing the course of America’s foodways and this year we're featuring two of them. Their names may not be well-known to most people, but you can say them to almost anyone in the food world and they’re instantly recognized: farmers like Frank Reese and Bill Niman.
If you’ve tasted, bought—or just read about—old breed turkeys in the last ten years it’s been thanks to Frank Reese’s work. He’s been the most important farmer to revive and raise turkey breeds like Bourbon Red and Bronze at his Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch in Lindsborg, Kansas. Bill Niman, who's no longer part of his namesake Niman Ranch, has had a similar effect on beef and pork. He's now working with heritage turkeys, too, at his new company BN Ranch (unrelated to Niman Ranch).
Why is this all important? Well, to start with, the modern Thanksgiving turkey is a bit of a monster. It’s been bred to have a gigantic breast and little else. (The breast gets so big, in fact, the turkey can’t breed naturally.) As everything else got pushed aside in favor of the breast, out went its disease fighting genetics. Today’s commercial turkey is typically raised on a daily cocktail of antibiotics, without which it would succumb to the illnesses common in high-density feedlot operations. Those are all bad news. But, perhaps its worst sin is at the table: it’s bland. Commercial turkeys taste like salt and water, with very little turkey flavor to mention.
Not so with Frank and Bill's turkeys. They are full-flavored birds, rich with flavor and never mooshy in texture. They’re also not extreme, like eating wild game. It’s the kind of turkey that everyone at the table is going to enjoy. For many, it’ll be the first time they’ve tasted the real thing, and they’ll be fighting for seconds.
You might have any number of great reasons to buy one of these turkeys for your feast this year. They're sustainably raised. They support diverse genetics. They can have sex by themselves. But when you come back for one next year, it will be for one simple reason—they taste so good.
Turkeys are sold out for Thanksgiving 2016! Look for them again in fall 2017—if you'd like to be the first to know when they're back, use the "Email me when it's back in stock" links below. We'll send the birds with cooking instructions.