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Ayrshire Farm Revisited – Timeless Turkey in Time for Thanksgiving

Jordan Wright
November 2009

Ayrshire proprietor Sandy Lerner talks turkey for CBS - photo credit Jordan Wright

Ayrshire proprietor Sandy Lerner talks turkey for CBS - photo credit Jordan Wright

I returned to Ayrshire Farm in Upperville sooner than I could have imagined. An infusion of farm life soothes the spirit and inspires the chef and I accepted the invitation with delight to join in a turkey tasting sponsored by Ayrshire Farm, The American Livestock Conservancy, Humane Farm Animal Care, Slow Foods USA and Chef’s Collaborative. The surprise guests were the CBS News crew there to document the experience for “The Early Show”.

Judging begins in earnest - photo credit Jordan Wright

Judging begins in earnest - photo credit Jordan Wright

This time the judges were Anya Fernald, Founder and Director of Live Culture Co., who works with food producers on sustainable food projects in over 30 countries; Lisa Brefere, Founder and CEO of GigaChef and recent recipient of the American Culinary Federation’s Presidential Medallion for outstanding dedication to the culinary profession; Ed Matthews, Chef/Owner of One Block West whose eclectic seasonal cuisine in Winchester, VA features products from local farms; and Christopher Edwards Executive Chef of Patomack Farm Restaurant in Lovettsville. VA. Edwards brings his culinary experience from under the wing of Ferran Adria who taught him to forage the hillsides of Spain for wild herbs, fruits and other ingredients for his guests at what is considered the “World’s Greatest Restaurant”, elBulli.

The day’s event featured nine heritage breeds. They were as follows: Chocolate, once common in the antebellum South; Narragansett, known in 17th C Rhode Island; Black, known in England and Spain since the 16th C; Bourbon Red, first bred in Kentucky by Mr. J. F. Barbee in 1909; Midget White, a more recent hybrid developed at the University of Massachusetts; Standard Bronze, in America since the 18th C; Royal Palm, a stunning bird bred in Lake Worth, FL in the 1920’s; Slate, another 19th C hybrid; and the White Holland, a white-feathered variety that is one of the rarest and most difficult ancestries to trace.

Heritage turkeys at Ayrshire Farm - photo credit Jordan Wright

Heritage turkeys at Ayrshire Farm - photo credit Jordan Wright

Anya Fernald told me how she feels about how Ayrshire Farm is changing the industry model. “Ayrshire is an incredibly inspirational model for a fully vertically integrated farm. I think that Sandy Lerner’s vision is amazingly ahead of its time. Heritage breeds can literally stand on their own two legs, unlike most of our modern raised breeds, and don’t need the same level of inputs, like hormones, antibiotics and chemicals that conventional livestock systems do.”

These are not the steroid-breasted birds with big-as-a-baby’s-leg thighs that consumers have come to expect. Rather they are more favorably compared with wild game. Less familiar to the American palate than to the European connoisseur, they have an elegant and deeper flavor finish.

Panorama at the Peak restaurant in Berkley Springs, West Virginia began using Ayrshire Farm’s turkey for their popular turkey croquettes that they serve over local apple cranberry compote.

Owner Patti Miller tells me, “We have been serving Ayrshire Farm heritage turkey year-round for the past two years. Our guests are crazy about it. “ She adds, “The difference between their heritage bird and a commercial counterpart is nothing short of amazing.”

Chef Robert Townsend with Thanksgiving turkey at Ayrshire - photo credit Jordan Wright

Chef Robert Townsend with Thanksgiving turkey at Ayrshire - photo credit Jordan Wright

The day began in the farm’s kitchens where Executive Chef Rob Townsend prepared the birds, along with his assistants. Numbered toothpicks were placed beside prepared samples of the different turkey breeds, votes were cast and favorites were selected. The winner was the Royal Palm turkey, with the Midget White and Chocolate coming in third place. Personally I preferred the Bourbon Red for flavor, texture and appearance.

Three varieties of certified organic, certified pasture raised and certified humane raised turkeys are now available from Ayrshire Farm for the holidays, Midget White, Bourbon Red and Bronze. If you decide to try one of these birds over the holiday season, please do let me know which breed you decided upon and how your family enjoyed its unique flavor.

Turkey Croquettes from Panorama at the Peak, Berkeley Springs, WV

Turkey Croquettes from Panorama at the Peak, Berkeley Springs, WV

Turkey Croquettes
Panorama at the Peak, Berkeley Springs, WV

1/3 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
1 1/4 cups chicken or turkey stock
2 farm-fresh egg yolks
3/4 cup half & half
2 stalks of celery finely chopped
2 large leeks finely chopped
4 cups finely diced turkey. (Ayrshire Bourbon Red Turkeys both white & dark meat)

fine bread crumbs
olive oil for frying

Melt butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour until smooth.
Add turkey stock, stirring slowly and constantly to keep smooth, until
sauce is thick. Remove from heat.
Mix beaten egg yolks into cream. Add egg mixture, stirring into
butter and stock mixture, until smooth.
Stir in diced turkey, leeks and celery. Mix well.

Place over double boiler on high heat and cook about 20 minutes,
stirring occasionally.
Refrigerate until well cooled…at least 2 1/2 hours or overnight.

Form mixture into 2 oz balls and roll in breadcrumbs.
Cover bottom of saute pan with oil. Heat oil over medium high heat.
Place croquettes in pan and press with spatula. Saute both sides
until golden brown.
Place browned croquettes on cookie sheet in 350 degree oven, 10 to 15

Apple Cranberry Compote

5 apples, peeled, cored and diced
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup apple cider
1 cup cranberry juice

Sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg to taste

Cook all ingredients together just until apples are softened but not

If necessary, thicken with cornstarch and water slurry.

Serve warm under croquettes.

Recipes provided by Executive Chef, Scott Collinash

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