Run-of-the-mill frozen fowl has fallen out of favor with many consumers this turkey shopping season. Instead of simply considering the weight stamped on a plastic wrapper, more and more home chefs are searching for birds that boast buzzwords like organic, free-range, fresh and antibiotic-free.
“Every year the orders increase here,” said Charles Weatherwax, manager of Predel’s Ranch in Rexford. The farm sells fresh, organic, free-range turkeys from Misty Knoll Farms in Vermont.
The turkeys are much tastier than typical supermarket birds, Weatherwax said.
“There is just no comparison in flavor to what you get in the supermarket,” Weatherwax contended. “Absolutely none. And there’s no artificial ingredients, no steroids, hormones or antibiotics. It’s just a completely different flavor.”
But those fresh, flavorful birds come with a heftier price tag than the typical, frozen grocery store gobbler. This week regular frozen turkeys run between $1.29 and $1.49 per pound at area supermarkets. The turkeys at Predel’s are $3.39 per pound, with sizes ranging from 10 pounds to over 20.
Despite the price, the turkeys are in high demand and must be preordered for Thanksgiving by Nov. 12, Weatherwax said.
Cooper’s Ark Farm in Schoharie raises broad-breasted white turkeys nearly all year round, but this is their busiest season and the birds are going fast. “It’s getting kind of tight with the count,” said owner Phil Metzger, who sells whole turkeys as well as boneless and bone-in breasts, and leg and thigh combinations.
Metzger’s turkeys are raised outdoors and eat chemical-free feed. Whole ones cost $3.25 per pound and sizes range from over 12 pounds to under 25. One of his fresh turkeys will set you back a bit of cash, but one bird is usually good for several meals, he said.
“Turkey goes a long way for a family,” Metzger said. “The first meal sounds like it’s expensive, but there’s nothing you can’t do with turkey — soup, stew, pot pies, lasagna, meatballs. We eat turkey all year long.”
The turkeys are just about sold out at Mariaville Angus Farm, where the Chandler family raises broad-breasted whites and a heritage breed called Narragansett.
“I may have some extras the weekend before Thanksgiving,” said owner Chris Chandler, who raised about 70 turkeys for this year’s holiday.
The farm sells poultry at the Schenectady Greenmarket and the Troy Waterfront Farmers’ Market.
Chandler’s turkeys are raised on grass. “They get feed too, but they’re pasture-raised,” she noted. Her broad-breasted white turkeys run $5 per pound, while the Narragansetts cost $7 per pound. The price difference is because the Narragansetts grow more slowly than the broad-breasted whites, she explained. “It’s a little more feed, a little more labor, a little more love.”
Both varieties are worth the cost, she said. “I can’t even buy a turkey in the supermarket after tasting my own. I’m totally spoiled. Once you buy one, you’ll never go back, so you might as well plan to spend money on one every year,” she said.
The fresh, all natural, vegetarian-fed Plainville Farms turkeys sold at the Niskayuna Co-op Market are a perennial favorite.
“We do mostly orders because we sell about 550 of them,” said meat manager Pam Blasting. “We do put some in the case, but it’s first-come, first-served.” Orders are taken up until three days before Thanksgiving, she said.
Blasting’s been working at the co-op for 20 years and during that time has seen the demand for the fresh, natural turkeys increase steadily. “When I started here, we used to order 150 and now we’re up to 550,” she said. The cost of the Plainville turkeys at Niskayuna Co-op is $2.49 per pound, but the market will match competitor’s prices.
Very few frozen turkeys get sold at Greulich’s Market in Guilderland. Fresh Jaindl Farms turkeys, raised in Pennsylvania without antibiotics, are what customers want, said Bob Van Allen, manager of the small grocery store. Greulich’s started taking fresh turkey orders about two weeks ago.
“We usually sell out seven to eight days ahead of the holiday,” said Van Allen, noting that orders have remained steady for the past four or five years.
This year, the price for a whole turkey at Greulich’s is $2.59 per pound, up 15 or 20 cents from last year, he estimated.
Orders for organic turkeys are up from last year at the Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany. The market sells fresh turkeys from Misty Knoll Farms in Vermont and Stone and Thistle Farm in East Meredith.
“Stone and Thistle [turkey] is a notch up because they’re organically fed,” said front-end manager Katie Centanni.
The birds from Stone and Thistle Farm run $5.99 a pound, while the Misty Knoll Farms ones cost $4.59 per pound. Orders will be taken until Nov. 16. Turkeys from both farms are popular with co-op customers because people like to know how the birds were raised and what they were fed, Centanni said. “They taste better than any other turkey I’ve ever had,” she said.
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