With all the discussion in the press about different turkey breeds, Heritage versus contemporary, and the various places where a person can spend many hundreds of dollars on a turkey, you'd think that these were the decisions that most of us were making.
Here in New Jersey, the real question is: "Where can we get turkeys that aren't frozen solid blocks trucked in from some distant corner of the country?"
New Jersey's highly developed farm-to-consumer culture takes care of this nicely. The state is dotted with real turkey farms—places where you can go, buy a freshly killed (or at least recently frozen) turkey at a price that's a bit more than the supermarket and more than a bit less than the fancy stores.
This past week I checked out Hinck's Turkey Farm in Manasquan, an area I didn't associate with farming at all. But having seen farms in the oddest places, I was ready for anything. What I found was an industrial building across from an outlet mall, with grazing animals—cows, goats, and chickens, but no turkeys—in a field on one side.
The attached building had been converted into a deli—but a very turkey-oriented deli. They had roast turkey legs and breasts, offered turkey sandwiches, and whole Thanksgiving-style turkey dinners. What I wanted—a whole, fresh turkey—was nowhere to be seen. When I asked if they had their own turkey farm or whole raw turkeys for sale, it was like giving the secret password.
With a look that said "I'll get you the real stuff," a woman behind the counter told me that fresh turkeys are available almost every day of the year for $2.95 a pound and typically run twelve to twenty-four pounds. Raising and processing occurred at a farm nearby that wasn't open to the public. I could, however, drive by and confirm that the turkeys were free-range.
I bought a thirteen pounder and headed home.
Back in the kitchen, I set my Hinck's turkey in a roasting pan. It was obvious that it wasn't a heritage breed; its shape was exactly the same as a bird from the supermarket. But taking a bite told a somewhat different story. The Hinck's turkey had real flavor—not the deep intensity of a heritage bird, but it wasn't bland or delicate like the supermarket stuff. Nor was it perfectly tender. It had a bit of grain, but still a real improvement over the supermarket product.
Is Hinck's a good choice for turkey shoppers? I think so. It's a good and decently priced alternative to the much cheaper mega-mart turkeys, and the elite products offered by other farms and specialty stores. My own opinion is that a roast turkey is an ideal meat for any sort of winter gathering. Less expensive that a large beef roast and more often grown locally, turkey can almost be thought of as a local New Jersey food. And there's no better place to buy one than a farm store like Hinck's.