Staff of Life deli department
Dining Reviews

Where to Buy Organic, Local and Heirloom Turkeys

Planning a local Thanksgiving, plus a menu preview for Diana Kennedy’s dinner at Soif

From left to right, David Gularte, Mikey LaBeau, Kiyo Gaza, Sean Fegan, Jodi Von Querner, and Anthony Blanco, of the Staff of Life Meat & Fish Department. PHOTO: KEANA PARKER

Turkeys, those oft-maligned big-shouldered cousins of the winsome chicken, take center stage in many homes during the next two months. The crowning event in the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, turkeys have become subject to kinder, gentler treatment as they make their journey to our tables and delicious memories. While it’s fun to joke about how bland turkey meat really is, it’s equally fun to try to coax more spice into the meal that owes something, but not a lot, to a group of clueless English settlers who might have starved to death save for the savvy of the resident natives. What was actually consumed on that first Thanksgiving day was certainly venison, wild duck, oysters, and cornmeal porridge. But in a few weeks, many will re-create their own childhood meal, very likely involving that big-breasted bird, the turkey.

Here in costly paradise-by-the-Pacific we have access to plump and humanely-raised turkeys—non-GMO, organic, as well as pastured and heirloom. [Heirloom varieties can be derived from breeds with richer dark meat and distinct flavor intensity.] If you decide to explore the more expensive heirloom turkeys you can plan on paying from $5 per pound, compared with Diestel non-GMO turkeys starting at $3 per pound. But, you would be supporting endangered varieties and showing your respect to the noble bird. Just food for thought.

Over at Staff of Life, I spoke to Anthony Blanco, owner of the in-store Natural Meat & Fish department.

“All of our turkeys are free-range, hormone and antibiotic-free,” Blanco says. “Our organic and pastured turkeys are higher priced, and a bit more for the heirlooms.”
Blanco added that Staff will brine your turkey at no cost, by request. “We make our own brine,” he adds proudly. “We are taking orders for holiday turkeys right now, and it’s probably best to come in to discuss your needs so that we can offer the best service.” Blanco recommends one pound per person “if you don’t want to have any leftovers,” he says. But if you do want leftovers, he suggests ordering 1.5 pounds per person.

“At my house we like 2 pounds per person, so we can have lots of leftovers,” he says. While we were on the subject of holiday meals I asked how the upcoming crab season looked. “Right now Monterey Bay is registering almost non-detectable amounts of domoic acid,” Blanco says, “so we’re really good this year, compared to last. This season we’re on like Donkey Kong,” he predicts, poetically. More info at staffoflife.com.

At New Leaf Market’s West Side butcher counter I was assured that Diestel turkeys—which used to be called Heidi Hens—are available in organic as well as heirloom varieties. “The easiest way to order is just to go online and you’ll find lots of choices,” a spokesman tells me. Indeed, there is a Thanksgiving pre-order site that lists many choices of fresh, uncooked birds from “All natural” Diestels ($2.79/lb) to organic ($4.29/lb) to organic heirlooms (a mix of Auburn, Black, and American Bronze turkeys for $4.99/lb.) And of course you can also order brined, smoked, fully cooked, organic brown and serve, and lots of different turkey breast variations. Click one, then select size, quantity, pick-up place and day, give your name, phone number and email address and you’re styling. More info at newleaf.com.


This Just In!

The menu that Soif chef Mark Denham has created for the Nov. 15 Diana Kennedy dinner includes the mouth-watering possibilities of rustic pressed pork confit, local abalone, Sonoma duck breast, and dark chocolate-pear torte. With matching wines, the $150 dinner includes tax, tip and a signed copy of Kennedy’s culinary memoir Nothing Fancy. Soif. Call quick! 423-2020.

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in painting, music, winetasting, trail running, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir. Her new book 'Inside the Flame' is available at Bookshop Santa Cruz and on Amazon. Visit her website at ChristinaWaters.com.

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