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Heritage turkeys offer a colorful, flavorful twist to Thanksgiving celebrations

Heritage turkeys offer a colorful, flavorful twist to Thanksgiving celebrations

Thanksgiving shows off its true colors with a Virginia turkey as its centerpiece.

Virginians who raise heritage turkeys said some customers are willing to pay a premium for a heritage turkey to serve with their holiday spreads.

According to The Livestock Conservancy, official heritage turkeys reproduce and are genetically maintained through natural mating. They have a long, productive outdoor lifespan and slow growth rate compared to commercial varieties.

“Heritage is an original species that will continue the line,” said Ann Rosenfeld of Mickey and Ann’s Farmette LLC in Southampton County. They have raised multiple heritage breeds, including Chocolates, Slates, Royal Palm, Black Spanish and Midget Whites on a quarter-acre wooded lot since 2014.

“That’s our original breeding stock,” bellowed Mickey Rosenfeld, projecting his voice over the shrill, throaty gobbling of 13 happy breeding hens, two toms, “and who knows how many juveniles.”

Originally the Rosenfelds started with Lavenders (or Slates), Chocolates and Midget Whites.

“With crossbreeding between Browns, Whites and Slates, we started getting all these new colors,” Mickey said. “It’s still considered heritage when they crossbreed.”

The birds take up to 30 weeks to reach a marketable weight. Hens can reach 10 pounds and toms up to 16. The meat is described as juicy and succulent, with a thin layer of “self-basting” omega-3-rich fat under the skin.

Processing fresh turkeys the week ahead of Thanksgiving is a busy time for the Rosenfelds, who have their eyes set on retirement.

“It’s a job,” Mickey said. “We say we’re not going to do it again, but the paycheck’s really good. We get a lot of repeat customers for fresh turkeys, though it’s an expensive bird for some people.”

The Rosenfelds and their friends prefer their heritage birds smoked in their walk-in smokehouse.

“We’ll smoke them about four hours, wrap them in foil and cook to temperature,” Mickey said. “So juicy and tender; no knife is necessary.”