Judd and Cari Culver’s free-range organic turkey farm in Greenwood held a tasting event July 30 and gave away sandwiches of their product. Roughly 250 people curious about the Kelly Bronze turkey RSVP-ed to a flyer and got to meet Englishman Paul Kelly, one of the family founders of the brand, and learn how to carve a turkey the right way. Kelly holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for the fastest turkey plucker and the fastest turkey carver.
“There’s only one farm in America like this,” Culver told the crowd. “There’s another one in England. We bought the farm 24 months ago and we’ve put a tremendous amount of work into it.”
In the field below the buildings, the former Ruscher family farm, about 1,500 young turkeys were strolling behind stout woven wire fencing, stocked at a rate of 200 birds per acre. The fence is supplemented by electric strands that carry a knock-you-down jolt that’s meant to discourage turkey predators. Those, mainly foxes, have been something of a problem so far. But animals learn what hurts fast. Culver reminded the visitors to stay back from the fence.
Kelly came over from The Old Country for the event and to help install the final features of the farm’s new production line in a new building that will handle processing and cold storage. The line now includes a waxing process Kelly invented to assist in of removing the bird’s black feathers.
The refrigeration room had been set up with hay bale seating for the crowd who watched as Kelly demonstrated the proper way to cook a Kelly Bronze, which is different from a regular store turkey because it’s raised to maturity (six months) and therefore has its natural fats. Most turkeys sold in the U.S. are slaughtered at three months old while they are still building their skeletons, rather than their muscles and fat, and that’s why they need brining and slow cooking. A Kelly Bronze, Kelly said, is done in about an hour and a half. (A meat thermometer comes in the package so you can be sure.)
“White turkey’s price was being driven down,” Kelly explained. “We had to do something special, so we went for bronze turkeys. They are the original turkey.” The family scoured Britain for them and found 350.
“The bronze turkey disappeared because he has a black feather and processors wanted a white turkey. They thought it looked better.”
Kelly was following a technique called New York Dressed. It’s an artisan style developed in America that dry plucks and hangs the bird to age. It’s labor intensive and raising a bird twice as long as other producers do also raises its cost.
“A fat bird does not need help,” Kelly said. “Start at room temperature, breast down. That makes it self-basting. Add salt and pepper and onions. Flip it after an hour. Once it’s done allow it to stand for an hour. It won’t cool off. To warm it, pour the drippings back over the carved meat.”
Kelly deftly removed a leg and then sliced the bird cleanly in half down the breast bone. His knife must have been strong and sharp. He took the breast meat off neatly and one half the bird was still intact.
“Remove the skin and put it back in the oven for 20 minutes. Then eat it. Dark meat is the sign of quality in poultry.” His point was that the dark meat that most people are used to is not truly dark meat.
Kelly then asked for three volunteers from the audience. Once on the stage they learned that one would win a free turkey for being best at turkey calling. Kelly demonstrated the sounds male and female turkeys make. The female makes a weak cluck. The male makes a deeper, loose-cheeked warble. The winner, whose imitation was unselfconscious and convincing, was voted by the crowd with applause.
A couple of dozen turkeys had been roasted in a mobile pizza oven truck and Kelly and Culver sliced and served until everyone got their fill. Meanwhile there was Starr Hill beer on tap and a blues band. They say the tasting will be an annual event.
Crozet has got good beer, good wine, good cider, good peaches and apples, and now good local turkey too.