Thanks to the work of a few farmers heritage breed turkeys are making a comeback in America after near extinction. You might even have some available where you live, which would be excellent news and you should order early from your local farmer to try one this year. Heritage birds are sharp contrast to the modern Thanksgiving turkey, which is a bit of a monster.
The modern Broad Breasted White turkey was bred to produce a lot of white breast meat as quickly as possible. Everything else got pushed aside: out went its disease fighting genetics, out went its ability to survive on its own, out went its flavor. Today’s commercial turkey is raised on a daily cocktail of antibiotics, without which it would succumb to illnesses common in high-density feedlots. It’s also terribly bland. Commercial turkeys taste like salt and water, with very little turkey flavor to mention.
Not so with these turkeys. They are rich with flavor. Part of the reason is that they're prepared in a style called “New York dressed.” It’s the old way turkeys were processed on farms. They are cleaned without water, then hung to age like steak. It’s a style that, as you can derive from the name, started in the USA but went away as American farmers switched to water processing with no aging. These might seem like small differences—a bit of water here, a bit of time hung to age there. But wait till you taste the difference. It’ll blow you away. This turkey is so tender, so flavorful, it’s so different from what we’re used to it shouldn’t even be called by the same name.
The turkey comes via a partnership between Judd Culver in Crozet, Virgina with Paul Kelly, a Brit whose family has been raising heritage turkeys in Danbury, England for fifty years. Paul taught Judd the ropes and provides the breed: they're a heritage Bronze turkey, which the Kellys have dubbed KellyBronze. Judd raises the birds outdoors at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. They receive no antibiotics or hormones. They are pastured, roaming free range, protected from predators by a pair of guard llamas(!). At the end of their days, they are processed and dressed on the farm.
These birds look a little different than grocery turkeys because some of the dark colored quills remain in the skin with the gentler plucking used in the dry processing method. This is normal, it's fine, it's edible. In fact, you've been eating them all of your life because standard birds have them too, they're just few and white so they're harder to see. You'll remove the skin when you eat and guests can choose to eat the crackling skin or not.
This is 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.
"KellyBronze turkeys are the best of the best, the most joyful treat."
Chef Jamie Oliver
"The Rolls-Royce of turkeys."
The Times of London
Download cooking & care instructions for our heritage turkeys