Category: Heritage Turkeys

Heritage Turkeys : From Farm to Ark to Table

In every family, there is a pride of history and lineage. This is no different for poultry or livestock. Heritage turkeys are the progeny of poultry that was bred for flavor.

Norman Kardosh, Frank Reese’s mentor, spent his life teaching Frank how to raise heritage turkeys responsibly. He knew he was leaving his legacy to Frank, and he stressed the importance of pure genetics. Norman said, “If you mess them up it will take fifteen years to straighten out… if it’s even possible.”

The Standard Bronze is the perfect heritage turkey — flavorful, healthy, and robust — and represents not just a line of genetics, but the farmer’s love and care in breeding the best heritage turkeys in the world.

By the early 1970s, factory farming would take over, and turkeys were most commonly bred for traits that would genetically deform them and destroy their flavor, namely how fast and how big they could grow. Within twenty years, turkeys shot up with chemicals to keep them alive and so top heavy they could not walk were the norm. In fact, they were growing so fast that turkeys became so inexpensive as to nearly bankrupt the industry.

The American Poultry Association is America’s oldest agricultural association and the keeper of the standards for poultry breed identification. Frank is the first farmer to receive accreditation by the APA certifying his heritage turkeys as purebred to the standards set in 1873.

Patrick Martins, Founder of Heritage Foods USA explains, “In 2001, when I was running Slow Food USA, I put the Standard Bronze turkey on the Slow Food “Ark of Taste” — a metaphoric vessel designed to highlight agriculture on the verge of extinction — and suddenly I found myself in the turkey business, launching Heritage Foods USA to help Frank expand and successfully deliver his flock of heritage turkeys, now numbering around 10,000 birds per year.

Frank’s birds are not only a model of responsible farming but also delicious. They bring a character of flavor and juiciness that could never be found in anything produced by Big Agriculture. They do cost more, but the price reflects the true cost of raising a free-range bird that has not been genetically redesigned to flatter the bottom line rather than the taste buds.

Modern, industrially raised adult turkey’s breasts are so unnaturally large that they cannot reproduce without assistance, and need to be artificially inseminated, which is why cheap turkey meat is available in the supermarket all year long. Frank’s turkeys mate naturally and are only ready to be harvested for Thanksgiving.

Frank Reese’s heritage turkeys are now available for pre-order for Thanksgiving directly from Heritage Foods USA, including the Standard Bronze as well as Bourbon Red, White Holland, Black Narragansett, Royal Palm, Jersey Buff, and Slate breeds.

2016 Heritage Turkeys
Delivered fresh November 22nd with neck and giblets
8-10lb turkey … $99
10-12lb turkey … $119
12-14lb turkey … $139
14-16lb turkey … $159
16-18lb turkey … $179
18-20lb turkey … $199

The Frank Reese Story

Every super hero needs an origin story.

Frank Reese with his Heritage turkeys at Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch

At Heritage Foods USA, Frank Reese is a super hero. His farming practices should be a model for anyone who cares about taste and the survival and success of true heritage breeds. We started our business because we believed in Frank, and his heritage turkeys have really sustained us. It is nearly impossible to compete with his birds.

One of our favorite things about Frank is that his history is so totally epic. We’ve been hyping it lately to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of his turkey flock, so we thought we’d share it here. This is America at its best!

In 1916, poultry farmers with the unlikely name of the Bird Brothers (their real name), won a blue ribbon at a poultry show at Madison Square Garden.

In 1944, the Meyersdale Republican of Meyersdale, Pennsylvania, wrote that the Bird Brothers “success as developers and propagators of the best strains of Giant Bronze turkeys made the name of their firm known in nearly every civilized country in the world. They exhibited fowls at Madison Square Garden for 27 consecutive years, and never without taking blue ribbons.”

1932 BIRD BROTHERS ADD (1) (1)
Bird Brothers ad from 1932

In 1917, the year after their first championship at the Garden, the mother of Frank’s future mentor Norman Kardosh – who Frank would meet at a poultry show in 1955, when Frank was just seven years old– received ten Bird Brother Standard Bronze turkey eggs as a wedding present, and passed them on to her son. These heritage turkeys can be directly traced to 1843 and the Boston Livestock Show.

Long gone are the days when viable bird eggs were given as wedding gifts (or when there were poultry shows in the center of New York City), but back then, in a country driven by family farms, there was nothing strange about it at all. Norman’s mom had the eggs shipped to Kansas by railcar, where Frank would eventually found his farm. These eggs would be the beginning of a flock of Bronze turkeys that by 2016 would become the only breed of turkey whose lineage could be traced back over 173 years — including the last century in Kansas.

Summertime and We’ve Got Turkeys On Our Mind

It’s only July but we’ve already got turkeys on our mind.

Pre-orders for Thanksgiving always start early – but this year is a special one for us and the Worlds Greatest Turkey Farmer, Frank Reese: This year marks the 100th anniversary of Frank’s turkey flock arriving to Kansas, a genuine milestone for American farming.

Heritage customers know that we got our start selling Frank’s turkeys and our relationship with him truly is the cornerstone of our business. He can also count among his fans Alice Waters, who says “These birds are without a doubt the tastiest birds you can possibly serve,” and Mario Batali who proudly claims “I’ve served these birds for my Thanksgiving every year for the past 12 years and always will.”

Frank has become an icon of American farming and has been featured in publications ranging from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal to National Geographic and Playboy. His story is the Rosetta Stone of the sustainable agricultural movement. He is a hero in the renaissance of American farming.

Frank’s story is truly epic, and goes all the way back to the 19th century poultry shows, back when such things were hosted at Madison Square Garden, the world’s most famous arena, now better known for rock concerts and sporting events. It was a different world then, one run by sustainable agriculture because that’s all there was – this was long before industrial farming meant cruelty and chemicals.

bronze turkeys 101 year ago

6 Common Thanksgiving Turkey Mistakes

Thanksgiving Turkey Mistakes
Thanksgiving! There’s no other meal so rewarding yet so anxiety ridden then this once yearly feast. Your heritage turkey is going to be the star of Thanksgiving dinner. Protect your investment and your reputation this year by avoiding these 6 Common Thanksgiving Turkey mistakes!

1. Give It A Rest
Sometimes the best ingredient is time itself. No matter what recipe you follow, plan to rest your heritage turkey at least twice during your cooking process— once at the beginning, and once at the end. Before you begin cooking let your turkey rest outside of the fridge for at least 40 minutes.

Allowing your bird to come to room temperature first will decrease the time it spends in the oven. This will help improve texture and prevent the white meat from drying out.

The second rest should come after you take your turkey out of the oven. Put down the knife! If you want your turkey to taste as good as it looks it needs to rest. Plan to give a full 30 minutes before carving.

2. Skip The Stuffing, But Don’t Forget To Stuff
Long gone are the days of warm, doughy stuffing overflowing from the cavities, nooks and crannies of holiday turkeys. Thanks to science, concerned mothers, and a better understanding of food borne illness it is now accepted that cooking stuffing inside of the actually turkey is a big no-no.

Play it safe and prepare your stuffing in a separate baking dish, but don’t ignore that cavity! Think of it as your flavor cave. The perfect basket to hold all of your favorite aromatics- herbs, citrus, onions, fennel, and don’t forget lots of salt and pepper!

Fill it up but keep it loose. Over stuffing can cause your heritage turkey to cook unevenly.

3. To Brine or Not To Brine
Brining has gained considerable momentum over the last few years. Many cooks have come to love this technique, which adds an additional buffer against dry white meat. When you use a traditional liquid brine both the salt and the liquid permeate the meat. The salt acts to help relax the proteins, aiding in tenderness, and a small percentage of the water is retained, increase the overall weight just slightly and helping preserve juiciness while roasting.

This works great for your average grocery store bird who’s a lack of natural fat can cause it to dry out quickly in the oven, but when you use a brine, even a delicious recipe full of herbs and spices, it does little to impart actual flavor. We will spare you the boring science of molecule size and cell wall semi-permeability and just say that no matter what you add to your brine the internal meat of the turkey will only retain the water in the solution. Adding water will help against drying out, but that water will also act to dilute the turkey flavor.

With a commercial bird this isn’t such a loss. Your average grocery store turkey isn’t known for its deep, rich turkey flavor, but heritage breed turkeys are unique. They are very distinct in their flavor and you run the risk of losing that richness.

There is a middle ground in the battle over the brine and that is the dry brine. This technique involves generously salt your turkey inside and out and allowing it to rest uncover in your refrigerator for 24-48 hour. Rinse the salt off before starting your final pre-over preparations and proceed as you normally would. The salt is still able to work its magic and help add tenderness to the turkey without adding the wateriness of a liquid brine. Trust us, the generous fat found in heritage turkeys (as much as 10 times that of their commercial counterparts) will be all you need to keep your turkey juicy and delicious this year.

4. Low and Slow Baby!
When compared to their commercial counterparts, our heritage turkeys enjoy a long leisurely lifestyle roaming and forging on the open prairie. Unlike your average grocery store turkey, whose fast growth rates out paces their bodies ability to develop and store fat, heritage turkeys are known for packing on the pounds!

They can develop as much as 10 times the amount of fat when comparing the white meat from both. This means a turkey that is juicier and more flavorful, but that fat needs time to render.

Cooking at a low and steady 325 will ensure your bird has enough time in the oven to render out that fat and break down connective tissue while still keeping it safe from drying out.

5. Live By The Thermometer
The only way to know if your heritage turkey is done is to take its temperature. We recommend pulling your turkey out of the oven when the thigh meat reads 165. The internal temperature of your heritage turkey will continue to rise even after you pull it from the oven.

If you are really a heritage turkey perfectionist you may opt to divide your turkey into pieces before cooking. This is best done separating the leg and thigh quarters from the breast. Because white meat and dark meat cook at different rates, this is the only way to ensure perfectly cooked and tender dark meat without over cooking the white meat.

Many chefs also swear by starting their turkeys breast side down and roasting them in that position for the first hour or so. This can help protect the white meat while the dark meat gets a head start on cooking, but be warned— if you’re planning to roast a big ol’ turkey this year, it ain’t easy flippin’ a big, hot, greased up bird without the help of a small crane.

6. You Carve What You Eat
Finally. You’ve navigated your way through the many perils of preparing the perfect Thanksgiving meal. Time to carve! While every movie ever made featuring a turkey dinner shows the turkey being carved and served right from the table like a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting, no one actually does this and ends up with a good result. This is a step that is best left in the kitchen.

After presenting your beautiful heritage turkey, remove both halves of the breast from the turkey in complete sections and slice. Carve and pull the remaining dark meat from the legs and thighs. Be carful not to slice more turkey then you plan to use immediately. The best way to store turkey and all meat for future meals is un-carved.

Still have a heritage turkey question!? Leave your question in the comments and please share your favorite Holiday tips with us!

Have a Healthy and Happy Thanksgiving!

Ark of Taste Collection

The Ark is Slow Food’s most important project, and the project that best celebrates flavor and pleasure as part of our cultural heritage – Patrick Martins, founder of Heritage Foods USA

Slow Food’s Ark of Taste is a living catalog of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction. This metaphorical ark carries the dual goal of helping preserve the cultural and social narratives embedded within American food traditions while promoting and preserving biodiversity within our delicate food system.

We began Heritage Foods USA 12 years ago when we first offered Frank Reese’s Heritage Turkeys to the young but growing Slow Food USA network . Each turkey became an opportunity to share our vision with a wider audience, which is to develop a responsible alternative to commodity-raised meat while promoting biodiversity on the ground.

Since that first Thanksgiving we have grown our network to include over 90 farmers— farmers who collectively raise over 75 different heritage breeds on open pasture the “good, clean and fair” way.

Preserving our culinary heritage is front and center of the mission for both Slow Food and Heritage Foods USA. This is why we are so excited to announce our most recent collaboration with Slow Food USA This Thanksgiving we are featuring a special collection of foods from the Ark of Taste to share with your friends and family this holiday!

Learn More About Our Ark of Taste Collection & Pre-Order Yours Today!

To celebrate this important milestone for Ark of Taste products and producers we hosted a tasting to share and experience these rare foods. Joined by Richard McCarthy, Executive Director of Slow Food USA; Alice Waters, American culinary pioneer; Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food; and other leaders and visionaries from the Slow Food community we tasted each product that is included in our Ark of Taste Collection along with other seasonal and special Ark products that were shared with us by our wonderful network of farmers and producers.

Spanning the breadth of sustainable, delicious and diverse food made in the United States, we tasted Newtown Pippin Apples that are grown on the Hudson River and have sold in New York City for 7 generations. We also enjoyed Sonoran Wheat berries from Arizona, which signify a beacon of rebirth for heritage grains uniquely adapted to the climate in which they are grown. We sampled 17 products in total, each with a distinct story but sharing the common theme that they delicious are made by people committed to doing things the “good, clean and fair” way- each impacting our food system in a small way and collectively changing the way we enjoy and buy our food.

We want to thank all of the producers and purveyors of the Ark of Taste products that were a part of tasting.

Saxelby Cheesemongers
Tait Farm
Baer’s Best
Woods Cider Mill
Prospect Hill Orchards
Native Harvest
Missouri Northern Pecan Growers
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Hayden Mills
Shields Date Garden
B & R Farms
Native Seeds
Mike’s Honey
Mauthes’ Progress Milk Barn
Deep Run Pawpaw Orchard
Bruce Cost Ginger Ale

The Ark is Slow Food’s most important project, and the project that best celebrates flavor and pleasure as part of our cultural heritage – Patrick Martins, founder of Heritage Foods USA.

A Closer Look: The Heritage Turkey Project

Heritage Foods USA is proud to process over 10,000 heritage breed pigs a year, hundreds of lamb and goat, and even a few whole head of beef — all nose to tail, ensuring that every part of the animal is used. Through sales and commerce we are ensuring the preservation of rare breeds, farmland and independent farmers.  But year after year it is the Heritage Turkey Project that remains our most important intervention into the American food supply. For one, Frank Reese and his turkeys truly are one of a kind — no one breeds poultry better than Frank who stays true to 19th century Poultry Standards of Perfection. His rare Standard Bronze, Bourbon Red, White Holland, Black, Narragansett and Slate are renowned for their taste and are slowly becoming a larger part of the national food supply on Thanksgiving. We believe that we should eat less meat but that the meat we eat should be the best — no product better communicates embodies that idea than our Heritage Turkeys. 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.



Meet Frank Reese, the most respected American poultry breeder alive today.

Photo: Jim Richardson
Photo: Jim Richardson

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.

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