I recently received an e-mail from Preferred Meats Inc. in Oakland, with an urgent message in the subject line telling me to order my Thanksgiving turkey by April 30. It wasn’t even Easter yet. What the … ?
I called the company’s corporate chef, John Paul Khoury, and asked, “What’s the deal?”
Khoury told me that Preferred Meats gets its fowl from Mary’s Turkeys, a Fresno family farm that raises free-range, organic and pastured-raised heritage birds. “They’re basically raising them to order,” he said.
A heritage turkey is like an heirloom tomato: It’s a variety raised many years ago and no longer used in modern, large-scale agriculture. It takes seven to eight months to grow a heritage turkey—more than twice as long as it takes to raise a traditional turkey. Hence, the April 30 ordering deadline.
Why order a heritage bird, which costs $4.50 a pound, when you can get a supermarket bird for under a buck a pound? Because today’s turkey is bred to have a massive breast—and very little taste. A heritage bird, on the other hand, has a smaller, more flavorful breast, and its leg meat is gamier and more textural than its traditional equivalent. “It’s the most flavorful turkey I’ve even eaten,” said Khoury.
Preferred Meats works primarily with professional chefs. (Charlie Harrison at Tre has already placed his turkey order.) But Khoury said he’d take orders from “serious” customers who are willing to pay for their birds now. If you’re interested, call (800) 397-6328 or go to http://www.preferredmeats.com/.
If you’re willing to wait until mid- to late November, you may be able to get a heritage bird at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op. But they sell out quickly.
FYI, there are only 219 days until Thanksgiving.