Every year, November hits and the local grocery stores start advertising the great deals on Thanksgiving turkeys. But if you procrastinate, mostly all that is left are very small birds or ones that could feed an entire neighborhood. Another problem is freezer space or lack thereof. Keeping a bird in the freezer for three weeks can prove to be a difficult task if you don’t have a lot of room or a separate freezer in the garage available. This year, break tradition and turn away from the generic frozen turkey hunt by trying one of these specialty spots in and around Sacramento.
Branigan’s Turkey Farm
39621 County Road 24A
Woodland, CA 95695
The family-owned Branigan’s Turkey Farm is open year round and was established back in 1942. This family raises 18,000 to 20,000 turkeys each year without the use of hormones or antibiotics. The flavor of the turkeys is different due to a combination of factors that you are not going to find too often. According to the Branigans, most turkeys are processed at 16 weeks, but they take on the added expense of raising them to 25 to 27 weeks, a sizable cost increase as “their weight gain per pound of feed decreases after 16 weeks.” By developing them longer, they develop a thin layer of fat under the skin, which helps with basting. The family takes extra care in processing the birds by removing all fine pin feathers and kidneys, properly storing the giblets and neck in the cavity and chilling with ice before packaging. They note that bringing the body temperature down with ice before packing is expensive, but helps reduce the water content of the bird and adds to the quality of the meat. If you don’t want to visit Branigan’s Farm in Woodland, a number of specialty markets sell the farm’s birds. Check at Nugget Markets, Taylor’s Market and other locations (listed on Branigan’s website) as orders can be placed at the meat counter in person or via telephone.
Mary’s Free Range Turkey
Mary’s Free Range Turkey is owned by Mary Pitman. She and her family have been raising turkeys in the Central Valley since 1954. They have six turkey ranches and even have their own processing plant now. Although the birds are raised in the Central Valley, they are readily available in the Sacramento area. There are links on the website for online ordering from different vendors and a searchable map with stores that carry their birds as well. There are three different kinds of turkeys available — free range, organic free range and heritage. All birds are vegetarian fed, gluten free and are never given antibiotics, preservatives or hormones. Never heard of a heritage turkey? They’re based on the first breed that existed in the United States and they breed naturally, resulting in larger thigh meat and slightly less breast than a typical bird. This makes for a quality-tasting bird but with less cooking time than a traditional turkey.
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Save Mart Supermarkets
Save Mart has locations throughout the greater Sacramento area and they differ from many larger grocery chains in that they avidly support local businesses and farmers. Save Mart is one of the places who carries Mary’s Free Range Turkeys, along with other locally grown products and produce. If you are wanting to shop for your turkey in person, check out a few Save Mart locations for a good selection of farm-fresh birds for this Thanksgiving.
Willie Bird Turkeys
5350 Highway 12
Santa Rosa, CA 95407
Before you comment that Santa Rosa is not part of the greater Sacramento area, let me just point out one key thing — online ordering with direct shipping. If you haven’t heard of Willie Bird and his turkeys, you are missing out. His restaurant gained some notoriety a few years ago after a feature on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” with Guy Fieri. Wille Bird turkeys are smoked and provide a one-of-a-kind experience hard to duplicate at home. Willie Benedetti is the mastermind behind the trademark formula for producing these delectable birds. The birds are smoked over alderwood, where they absorb the flavors that helped produce their famous trademark. The birds are “fully cooked, immediately cooled and vacuum-sealed so they will remain fresh for 6-8 weeks without freezing.” Willie Bird smoked poultry has been featured on menus of leading hotels, restaurants, delis and even airlines. If you want to try one out before ordering, you can visit his restaurant in Sonoma County to sample some of his beloved smoked turkey.
5810 Folsom Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95819
Corti Brothers is the go-to shop for most things in Sacramento. From gourmet meats, fine cheeses and a great wine selection, this shop is hard to beat. The grocery department features a nice selection of imported Italian foods that cannot be matched by any other market in the area. But, while you may think of Corti Brothers for your Italian deli meat and wine nights, don’t forget this spot at Thanksgiving time. The meat department features a wide selection of some of the finest meats available including turkeys. You can purchase free-range turkeys at the Corti Brothers store or just call the meat department to order one over the phone for pick up.
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Erin De Santiago is a freelance travel and food/wine writer and photographer from Sacramento, California. She is a regional membership coordinator for the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) and writes for a number of publications in addition to publishing her own blogs. She has traveled to over 40 countries on five continents in search of the best food and wine around the globe. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.