What Makes a Turkey a Bona Fide Heritage Bird?
Food labeling standards in this country approach the scandalous on the 364 days of the year that aren't Thanksgiving, so why should Turkey Day be any different? At Chow.com last week, Lessley Anderson flashed a light on heritage turkeys. Like, what is a heritage turkey in the first place, and is every bird dressed up in antique feathers really a heritage breed? First, definitions. Anderson links to the Heritage Turkey Foundation's breed primer, which IDs birds listed on the American Poultry Association's turkey Standard of Perfection of 1874 as bona fide heritage specimens: the Standard Bronze, Bourbon Red, Narragansett, Jersey Buff, Slate, Black Spanish, and White Holland. Later additions include the Royal Palm, White Midget, and Beltsville Small White.
But "heirloom" isn't exactly "heritage," as in the case of Diestel's American Heirloom Collection turkeys. "American Heritage Collection" sort of sounds like a Home Depot line of Colonial-inspired paints, but no, they're turkeys, what Anderson calls "an organically raised crossbreed that incorporates both heritage genes and nonheritage." A bit of heritage gaminess, we're guessing, fused to the kind of mild-tasting turkey meat most everybody grew up sawing through at the kids' table.
Are stricter labeling laws for heritage birds in the works? Maybe. Until then, Anderson writes:
anybody wishing to get their hands on an actual breed of bird that looks and tastes pretty much as it did 100 years ago is advised to (1) read the fine print and apply critical thinking, and (2) call the farmer and ask what their definition of heritage is.Advice that's probably too late for this year.