Buying and cooking the Christmas turkey is no mean feat when you’re faced with a plethora of choice and responsible for the most important family meal of the year. Here at Local Food Britain, however, we believe investing time, effort and money into finding the best bird will pay dividends on the day.
There’s no denying that Christmas is an expensive time, and it’s tempting to cut costs where you can, but paying that little bit extra for a decent turkey with a reliable provenance and a richer taste really is worth it.
First of all, source a good butcher, farm shop or farmer to offer advice and that personal service you wouldn’t get from nipping down to the supermarket. Understanding where your food comes from and how it has been raised adds to the overall enjoyment of a well cooked meal.
Really good turkey suppliers pride themselves on offering the best quality meat that tastes as good as it looks. To ensure this, they only deal with turkey farmers with a reputation for providing slow-growing, traditionally reared breeds brought up in either spacious, well lit barns or outdoors in meadows or even orchards.
In comparison, cut-price turkeys are likely to have been developed to put on weight quickly and to have been reared in crowded, intensive conditions indoors. And don’t be fooled into thinking free range means the turkeys are free to wander in and out of the barn. Some might only have minimal access to the great outdoors during the latter weeks of their lives.
First off, what colour should you go for? Generally, the choice comes down to white feathered turkeys and speckled bronze birds. The general consensus from farmers and butchers is that the bronze tends to have a more gamey flavour, and therefore you could be expected to pay roughly £1 a more per kilo for it than its white counterpart. You might even prefer a turkey crown (legs and dark thigh meat removed) or just a breast roast if you are catering for smaller numbers.
As the turkey is a game bird, it tastes best when allowed to mature over time. The better quality turkeys tend to feed on a natural cereal-based diet and are grown to six or seven months old, while intensively farmed turkeys – likely to have been routinely given antibiotics - reach maturity much earlier at two months. As a result, the more mature birds will have a natural fat layer for a more succulent taste.
Any good turkey producer will prepare the turkeys on their premises to limit transportation of live birds and thereby reduce stress. The turkeys will also be dry plucked by hand (rather than plucked under water by machines), and game-hung for a minimum of 10 days in an ice cold area, which helps the meat to mature and ultimately affects the overall taste of the turkey. This requires space and time that only a turkey expert will be able to provide.
The most popular size of a whole turkey to buy at Christmas is around 5 kilos (12 lbs), which generally feeds 6-8 adults, and for which you can expect to pay £45-£60. You are likely to be able to order in ½ or full kg categories from approximately 4kg upwards, with 13 kilos feeding up to 20 people.
And if turkey isn’t really your thing, or you’re looking for a change this year, what about a goose? Geese tend to be richer in taste than turkeys and there are only really two main sizes of geese on offer, but they are growing in popularity for those wanting something a bit different to the usual turkey and trimmings. Goose fat is highly prized for roasting potatoes and is actually pretty healthy as it is low in saturated fat and high in mono-unsaturated and essential fatty acids. A six kilo bird fits into your standard over quite comfortable and serves up to 12 people.
Also popular are three-bird roasts, which are a definite way to impress guests and reminiscent of medieval banquets. The roast may include a combination of anything from a pheasant, a duck and a turkey, to a pigeon, a grouse and a guinea fowl depending on your tastes. The real pull is the contrast of differing flavours, colours and aromas. Easy to carve and cook, you can expect a 5 kilo roast to feed eight to 10 people.
Whatever it is are dreaming of for your Christmas table, placing your order in good time to ensure the best of good quality, locally produced food for a mouth watering meal to remember.
Turkey buying in Surrey
We spoke to some of our Local Food Surrey members to see what they’re offering this Christmas
Bramble Farm, Horsley
Turkey talk: Now in their third generation of farming, the Joy family has been farming poultry since 1930, with the business handed down from grandfather Frank to his son Derek, and now in the hands of Derek's son Adrian. The family prides itself on rearing its turkeys in the traditional way: allowing the birds to mature slowly from day-old chicks to develop the best possible flavour.
What else? Bramble Farm Turkeys won Food Product of the Year at the 2018 Surrey Life Food & Drink Awards.
Food Float, Dorking
Turkey talk: Local free range poultry from Etherley Farm, delivered to your door on 23 or 24 December (Dorking area). All must be pre-ordered. Please visit Food Float page for full information
What else? Local organic beef from Canfields Farm.
Garsons Farm, Esher
Turkey talk: Garsons has been selling turkeys from Tom Copas in Henley for over 20 years, and has already been to check them out and can report that they’re in great condition. Orders are taken from 1 November up until two or three days before Christmas. Price depends on size, and the later you leave your order, the less choice you’ll have in sizes.
What else? Three bird roasts, which are hung and treated like game at Garsons are also available alongside game, Copas free range chickens, and special cuts such as beef ribs and loin of pork.
Hill House Farm, Dorking
Turkey talk: Based in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Hill House Farm is a family-run farm dedicated to connecting people to the countryside through food and rural experiences. Their homegrown Christmas turkeys are outdoor reared and nested in the barn overnight.
What else? Hill House Farm's rare-breed Gloucester Old Spot pigs and Southdown sheep are free-range and home-reared on their 17 hectare farm.
Noel’s Farm Shop, Woking
Turkey talk: Noel’s Farm Shop offers high quality bronze turkeys from Appledore and Copas with a range of prices meaning you don’t have to pay a fortune for a good quality turkey. Also available is a wealth of free range, grass fed meat cuts including gammon.
What else? As well as pre-packed hampers, there is also the opportunity to create your own hamper for the perfect Christmas gift choosing from around 500 groceries in-store and filling it with as little or much as you like. Baskets range from £4-£19 and there is no charge for dressing or wrapping.
Priory Farm Shop, Nutfield
Turkey talk: Butcher Andy MacNeill sources free range, organic bronze and white turkeys from local Kent farmer John Howe, which all fed on 100 per cent cereal diet and are in tip top condition.
What else? Also available is wonderful local beef from Surrey Farm in Guildford, which is put through a five step quality control process, and is a big seller over Christmas alongside or instead of turkey.