Frank Reese of Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch is considered the godfather of American poultry. He is a fourth generation poultry farmer from Lindsborg, Kansas. For nearly all his life, Frank has maintained a keen interest in American heritage turkeys. The New York Times’ Kim Severson writes of Frank: “Only someone with a trained eye can pick the best toms and hens to breed, and Mr. Reese is considered the best of the few people in the country who can do it.” He is also the only one with a flock whose genetic line can be traced back to the late 1800s. Frank Reese’s heritage turkeys are universally proclaimed the most delicious in America thanks to his expertise breeding the Standard Bronze, Bourbon Red, White Holland,Black, Narragansett and Slate. Frank’s birds are pasture raised on the Kansas prairie and are never fed antibiotics. Intense, dark and rich with a steakish, balanced flavor and distinctive finish, heritage turkeys are unlike regular turkey in every way.
The Katahdin/White Dorper is a crossbreed bred by Joseph Hubbard at Shannon Creek Ranch in the Flint Hills of Kansas. The Dorper has a lot more muscle than the Katahdin. Combined you get a meaty lamb with the mild taste of the Katahdin….
As we began to ready ourselves for the arrival of our Belted Galloway 1/8 Cattle Shares we realized that the Belties were missing from our tasting notes! We immediately rounded up the crew and invited our friends for an impromptu afternoon of tasting.
Two of America’s originals, learn the history of the bison and turkey.
Pork Breed Histories and Heritage Pork Taste Chart
Berkshire pork is elegant, luscious and smooth. The meat boasts a round and buttery flavor that melts on the tongue.
Red Wattle meat is charmingly inconsistent and can be earthy, vegetal and herbaceous with a hint of cinnamon. Its expressive porky flavor is concentrated and bold.
Duroc meat is clean and crisp. Its taste and texture are polished and easy on the palate. Duroc pork is a standard, not to fatty, not too strong pig.
Old Spot has the creamiest taste of any of the pig breeds. The Old Spot tastes like a tour of the fruit orchard where they famously grazed in old England!
Tamworth is the leanest of the pork breeds that we sell, but still has incredible tenderness and flavor. It is rootsy like the woods it ranges on and has a clean finish.
We had a great time taste testing these breeds and hope we have come up with some words that truly describe the characteristics of the pork. We would love to hear your thoughts!!! Please send us your taste comments to info@HeritageFoodsUSA.com so that we can add your words to the list!
Heritage Foods USA only brings in a few whole animals a year. Most of the time we only purchase cuts from various farms around the country, primarily ribeye, strip, tenderloin, hangar and brisket. As a result we have a lot of freedom to pick different breeds to bring in for our direct to consumer business that showcase how delicious cattle can be.
Lamb Breed Histories and Heritage Lamb Taste Chart
It’s hard not to respect a breed that was referenced numerous times in the Bible (see fat-tailed sheep) and is reputed to be 3000 years old. It’s even harder to imagine the Tunis not being completely delicious since the first three U.S. presidents raised and consumed them.
John Adams mentioned the breed in his diary in 1782 when the Tunis had an excellent reputation for delicious mutton — and tail (not sold today!). Thomas Jefferson ordered the importation of a second herd from Tunisia because he loved them so much he thought they should be more readily available. George Washington bred them —one of his early legacies was the proliferation of his particular Tunis crossbreed on farms and dinner tables along the East Coast.
The tail is now smaller and the color ranges from tan-to-red with the occasional white spot on the head and tail. Ewes usually birth twins although the Tunis still remains on the ALBC-USA.org Conservation Priority List. The Tunis is an excellent ambassador breed for the grass-fed movement – they don’t like to eat a lot of grain.
The Dorset Horn is a breed of sheep that spread over Dorset, Somerset, Devon, and most of Wales. In 1750 this is the breed the English with a fine palate would eat for Christmas! Today we eat it more frequently because the Dorset Horn is able to give birth three times a year. Dorsets tolerate heat well, and heat tolerance contributes to the rams’ ability to breed earlier in the season than rams of other breeds. This contributes to the Dorset Horn being a very profitable sheep to grow although it remains on the Threatened List of the ALBC-USA.org website.
The Hudson Bay Company first shipped the Dorset Horn to America in the 1860s. But it was a livestock show in Chicago a few years later that made it famous. The Dorset Horn is known for its healthy appetite and thrives on the lush pastures of Vermont where Ben Machin and Grace Bowmer raise a herd.
The Katahdin is inextricably linked to Michael Piel of Abbott, Maine who had the brilliant idea of separating out the wool producing side of the lamb business from the meat side. Wool production took time and energy from both the animals and the farmers while only providing about 10 percent of the farmer’s income. In addition wool creates a more pungent and muttony taste in the meat.
Piel imported three hair sheep from the Virgin Islands and bred them with various breeds like Tunis and Suffolk in an effort to produce a sheep that excels in taste. The result of the crossbreeding efforts finally produced a flock so perfect that it became the foundation for a herd and eventually the Katahdin breed that is raised around the country. Piel named it after a mountain in Maine even though the breed excels in hotter climates. The Katahdin is known to live a long time while remaining productive. There are now a couple of hundred U.S. breeders of the Katahdin including our very own Chris Wilson of Clover Creek who has worked with us for almost a decade.
The Katahdin serves land conservation projects very well and are perfect for grass-fed systems like that found in Northeastern Tennessee where Chris has won awards for land conservation.
The Churro was perhaps the first domesticated animal in the Americas when the Spanish brought it here in the 1500s. The animal quickly became a big part of Hispanic and Native American ways of life. One of the few positive legacies of Spanish conquerors was the lamb breeds they left here, especially at missions, as they searched for gold. It was these very sheep that the Navajo and other Native Americans stole and purchased making them a part of their way of life and diet.
The Navajo-Churro produces excellent wool and meat. It was Navajo women who owned the sheep, the grazing rights and the wool, which became an important source of income. The Navajo-Churro existed in great numbers here until the government killed off most of the population in their war with Native Americans. The breed currently sits on the Threatened List of the ALBC-USA.org website.
Today many of the residents of the Navajo reservation continue to raise sheep for wool and food. Dr. Lyle McNeal played a crucial role in increasing their population in the 1970s despite the fact that conditions in that part of the country are harsh.
The Katahdin/White Dorper is a crossbreed bred by Joseph Hubbard at Shannon Creek Ranch in the Flint Hills of Kansas. The Dorper has a lot more muscle than the Katahdin. Combined you get a meaty carcass with the mild taste of the Katahdin.
Heritage Foods USA consideres the Flint Hills to be the best terroir for grass-fed animal farming in the U.S. The Flint Hills are band of hills that stretches from eastern Kansas into north-central Oklahoma, extending from Marshall and Washington Counties in Kansas in the north, to Cowley County in Kansas and Kay and Osage Counties in Oklahoma in the south.
Anywhere tallgrass grows makes for a great and sus-tainable terroir for grass-fed sheep, but what makes the Flint Hills our number-one choice is that it boasts the most dense cover-age of intact tallgrass prairie in North America and has blossomed into a mosaic of independent family farms— many of which are at the heart of the heritage breed movement.
Tallgrass is the food the prairie produces naturally in the absence of intensive row-crop agriculture. Unlike corn, tallgrass is not dependent on petrochemical fertilizer or herbicide, and its roots run deep below the thin layer of topsoil. It is potent, incredibly resilient, the all-you-can-eat salad bar for healthy sheep. And they love it, gladly eating pounds of the stuff every day.
The result of this robust food supply is a meat with a nice even ratio of intra- and extramuscular fat, a clean taste, a natural delight. It is the taste of the Americas.
Varietals like Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Indiangrass, Switchgrass, Prairie Dropseed, and Sideoats Grama have stalks whose profound roots are able to pull moisture and nutrients from deep within the ground, making them the best candidates to withstand the drought and deluge likely to accompany climate change. They are resistant to all types of extreme weather, and they bounce back quickly, even from fires. And they do not rely on the dwindling power of the thin layer of topsoil to grow.
The way you cut your meat reflects the way you live.
Of an average eight-hundred-pound steer on the rail, I’ve seen between 20 and 80 percent turned into ground. It’s very simple: The more meat that is ground, the fewer pieces the farmer needs to worry about selling. There are a hundred ways to cut up a cow, but how great is it when the farmer only has to worry about a few?
This all goes for lamb as well — if domestic lamb is ever going to become a growth market (instead of our importing it from New Zealand), we need to eat more ground lamb. And it also goes for goats, a great protein source and a potential profit center for independent family farmers because goats are low-maintenance livestock.
You can even grind your own meat and bring the movement right into your home. Why not? Become an expert mixologist! A good grinder will bring new life to any meat. In the meantime, try our delicious ground beef or combo breed packs!
Our Top 3 favorite ways of using Heritage Foods USA ground meat.
To defrost, submerge in pot of cold water (about 20 minutes).
1. Season ground meat with Omnivore’s Salt and mix together. Form into patties and add to hot pan (no oil) on very high heat. Brown the first side for just a few minutes then flip burger to brown the other side. Cook until just burgundy red on the inside (just a couple of minutes if flat patty). Add to hamburger buns that have been toasted with American cheese singles on each side.
2. Start boiling water for pasta. Sautee a nice pile of garlic shavings in a small amount of olive oil until golden brown. Add tomato sauce and 3 chopped anchovies over low heat. Meanwhile, brown your ground meat over high heat in hot pan (no oil) just for a few minutes until evenly browned. Add to sauce and cook for 10 minutes. Serve over pasta (we recommend Baia Pasta!). Add salt and pepper to taste.
3. Combine one and two and make two main courses for dinner.
For the sustainable food movement to make an impact on America’s most unhealthy eating habits, we are going to have to play the game of convenience and infiltrate the territory traditionally staked out by McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, and their ilk. The above meals take a few minutes to make and boast the lowest portion cost in the food world.
What really separates Heritage Breeds of chicken from the rest of the pack, and why is it so important to help preserve breed diversity?
What is most remarkable about the chicken is that every one of the approximately 12 billion that populate the planet earth are all descended from the Red junglefowl (gallus gallus) of southern Asia.
Of course, counting how many chickens exist is no easy task considering that chicken just surpassed beef as the most eaten meat in the United States. Chickens also live in backyards and rooftops in every country in the world — they only need a small space to provide us with eggs and meat. Sadly many varieties of chicken are on the endangered species list. This cultural loss began in the 1950s but sped up in the 1970s.
Frank Reese and Good Shepherd Ranch are part of an underground movement to preserve old genetics. Today Good Shepherd with Heritage Foods USA is the only company selling 100% USDA inspected factory farm free chicken meat. This means no genetic meddling took place other than preservation of what real chickens once were. No one knows what real chickens are like better than Frank who has been in the business for over 50 years, since he was a little boy. He knows the taste and composition of every chicken that ever walked on American soil. His farm is a museum of the past and if good sense prevails, also the future! Of course no antibiotics are needed on Good Shepherd Ranch because the animals are strong and capable of reproducing on their own. These are chickens with 10,000 year histories.
In an effort promote heritage chickens, Heritage Foods USA is starting to sell ground chicken. This ground can be purchased as part of our livestock variety packs and soon by itself. The delicious ground meat is available in one-pound bags and consists only of heritage birds. Our goal is to increase the market for heritage breeds of chicken, allowing Frank and neighboring farms room to increase various breed populations.
Our whole chicken program continues each season with a rotation of all the breeds that Frank dutifully raises on his ranch. In 2014 the Rhode Island White, Leghorn, Minorca, and White Cornish will have been celebrated on dinner tables around the country. I asked Frank what the differences were between them and he answered, “It’s as big a difference as a Great Dane and a Chihuahua!” We are proud to feature each breed by itself every 3 months as well as breed variety packs that allow you to compare and contrast the flavors and shape of the birds. For a full list of breeds we will feature over the coming months see below. Together we hope to turn the tide against monoculture in the American poultry industry.
Working to change the way Americans eat chicken is no easy task. The industry is dominated by a single variety of chicken that got its start in the 1950s but really became a central actor on the American stage in the 1970s when the folks at Tyson met with the folks at McDonalds to develop the Chicken McNugget. The nugget provided Tyson with a stable and consistent market while also relieving them of the pressures of the fresh poultry market — nuggets could be frozen. Fresh chickens as a dominant part of the industry now became a thing of the past. The nugget created the need for the development of a new industrial hybrid chicken broiler that made the most amount of meat using the least amount of feed. Another goal was that the birds produce almost exclusively white meat even though nature does not do that on its own.
The industry scoured flocks for abnormal candidates to breed together to develop the characteristics they desired, even though it has ultimately been unhealthy for the species. When the industry came across one of nature’s mistakes — say, a chicken so top-heavy with meat that it could barely walk—they pulled it from the flock, not to kill it in an effort to protect the group from bad genes, but to ensure that its abnormal genetics became part of the next year’s harvest. The misfits were cataloged and combined — corporate farms now consist of entire populations who’s skeletal, cardiovascular, and immune systems can’t keep up with their genetic engineering. Long before they got to the crowded feeding ops, these animals were doomed to a life of pain with a potpourri of scurrilous genetics. But boy, do they grow fast! A five-pound chicken has gone from taking 16 weeks to only six weeks to fully grow, but many are on the verge of collapse when they arrive on the kill floor. These are dead end animals.
Thankfully farmers like Frank resisted the trend. His farm consists of dozens of breeds neatly divided in pens. Frank works to improve each genetic line that he has acquired over the past decades. Each breed tastes different but they all boast more dark meat than industrial cousins. They also look like a chicken with thinner breast lines, and a strong build.
The flavor of the meat is intense and the fibers in the meat are very strong and difficult to break down. Heritage chickens must be cooked very low and very slow. Without this technique the birds will be tough. Moisture must also a part of cooking process or else they dry out over the long cooking time.
The breeds Frank raises include Columbian Wyandotte, Rhode Island Whites, Black Leghorns, Golden Penciled Hamburg, Dark Brahma, Silver Laced Wyandotte, White Laced Red Cornish, Dark Cornish, White Cornish, White Jersey Giants, Black Jersey Giants, White Leghorns, Buff Leghorns, Blue Andalusian, Barred Plymouth Rock, Ancona, Light Brown Leghorn, Dark Brown Leghorn, Silber Leghorn, Black Minorca, White Face Black Spanish, Silver Penciled Hamburg, Plymouth Rocks and New Hampshires among many more. We hope you will try each one and help us lay the path for a return of taste and dignity for our animals.
The Minorca is a Mediterranean breed originated in Spain. They are one of the largest of the Mediterranean breeds, and are known to be great foragers and egg layers. Because of there large size they have historically been raised for their meat.
Minorcas are noted for being savory in flavor with a mineral qualities to both the light and dark meat, and a firm toothsome texture.
The Leghorn is also a Mediterranean breed, tracing its history back to Tuscany, Italy. Leghorns are one of the smallest Mediterranean breeds, but are excellent egg layers. Noted for hardiness and vigor; Leghorns will produces more eggs with less food than any other breed.
Leghorn meat exhibits many qualities of its smaller more delicate size and can be described as bright with sweet and citrus notes and a clean finish.
Golden Penciled Hamburg
The Hamburg chicken is a very old breed of poultry. Althought they get their name from the German city, the breed is in fact of Dutch origin. The penciled variety came from Holland via Hamburg, Germany, but owe their present shape and many of their color characteristics to early English breeders. All six standard varieties were admitted to the American Standard of Perfection in 1874.
Hamburgs are known for being prolific egg layers, and were nicknamed the “Dutch Everyday Layer”. They meat is rich and deep in flavor, often compared to turkey with notes of clover and Irish butter.
The Barred Rock, a variety of the Plymouth Rock (or simply “Rock”), originated in the United States and was admitted to the APA Standard in 1874. They possess a long, broad back, a moderately deep, full breast, and yellow skin. Developed in New England in the middle of the 19th century, the Barred Rock was first exhibited as a breed in 1869. This breed is considered a dual-purpose fowl, meaning that it is valued both for its meat and for the hens’ egg-laying ability. The breed gained popularity very rapidly due to its hardiness, docility, broodiness, and excellent production of both eggs and meat. In fact, until World War II, the Barred Rock was the most extensively kept and bred breed in the United States.