Although it’s still 4 months away, behind the scenes people are already getting ready for Christmas, particularly at Kelly’s turkeys. Cookery Editor, Sue, went to visit to see what makes their turkeys so special.You may have already know about Kelly Bronze Turkeys as they are recommended by several celebrity chefs including Delia Smith, Rick Stein and Jamie Oliver, but what makes them different? Cookery Editor, Sue, went to their farm in Essex to learn more and to see the turkeys. Yes, 4 months before Christmas and the turkeys are already out running around in the fields, because the main thing that makes the Kelly turkeys different is that they are reared for 6 months before they are eaten, whereas mass-reared turkeys are just 10 weeks old when they reach 5kg, so as they are reared more slowly, the Kelly turkeys develop more flavour and have a better texture than quickly reared meat.
My visit started with a brief introduction to the history of turkey production in Britain, and how the relative price of it has dropped. In 1930 it took an average of 2 weeks wage to buy a turkey, and now it takes 1.7 hours to earn enough to buy one! Yet, although it’s much more affordable, in Britain, we still only tend to eat turkey at Christmas, and on average we eat 4.8kg per person, per year, whereas in Isreal, for example, they eat 13kg per person, per year. So as it’s mainly just for Christmas that people eat turkey, Kelly’s rear them to be available fresh from the American thanksgiving, at the end of November, through to Christmas.
The visit started with having to put on protective overalls followed by a tour of the eggs and incubators. Although Kellys only rear about 2000 turkeys on their farms, they also hatch eggs and the chicks are sent all over the world. And in this country they supply chicks to other farms who rear the chicks to the same standards as on their own farm, so they can be sold as “Kelly Bronze”. The “Bronze” refers to the breed of turkey which has dark brown feathers. The Bronze variety was selected for giving the best flavour and texture meat, and from then that’s what they specialised in. The eggs are bread by crossing the strongest strains. The eggs are all coded with letters for the mother and father, so their growth can be tracked to see which are the best birds.
These are the doors, behind which are the incubators which are all temperature and humidity controlled.
And behind each door is up to 40,200 eggs!!!! The eggs are all automatically turned regularly – just as they would be if a turkey were nesting on them.
Then moving onto the next room I couldn’t believe the noise – all the little cherping chicks that had just hatched out. The little chicks were so cute that I wanted to take some home with me, but I don’t think they’d enjoy being brought up in my tiny garden (and I’m sure my neighbours wouldn’t like the noise).
The turkey chicks are then reared indoors for 10-12 weeks, but I didn’t get to see any at that stage as they’re already all out in the fields. There are about 2000 turkeys in 10 acres of land, but my photo doesn’t really show how spacious that is as all the turkeys kept together, and kept following us. It was quite disconcerting to walk through the field and look back and see a mass of turkeys following!
Alongside the field was an area of woodland where the turkeys are able to go for shelter in bad weather, with lots of water stations so they can always have plenty of fresh water.
Although I was keen to pick up one of the little fluffy chicks, I wasn’t so keen to try to pick up one up when they’d reached 12-weeks, so I left that to company director, Paul Kelly.
After walking around the farm and building up an appetite it was time to try some roast turkey for lunch. This 5kg turkey was roasted for about 2 hours – which is much quicker than mass produced turkeys, because the difference is that as the turkey is reared more slowly there is more fat marbelling in the meat, and fat conducts heat so they cook more quickly. Also, they don’t recommend having the bird trussed up, so that the hot air can circulate around it more freely. They recommend cooking a turkey to 65°C, and even provide a thermometer with their turkeys so customers can check because they’ve found that many customers don’t believe that turkey will cook that quickly. The turkey was cooked upside-down for the first hour as the fat deposits are along the back, so that keeps the meat moist, then it was turned over for the rest of the cooking time to get an all-over golden skin. About 76% of us eat turkey for Christmas, and for most of us it’s the only time that we cook turkey during the year and many people are nervous about getting it right, particularly if there are lots of people coming for dinner, but really it’s just like cooking a big chicken, and simply cooked is often the best way of serving it.
The way that they recommend carving turkey is different to how we usually do it. What Paul does is to take a whole breast off the bird, and then he takes the skin off that. He puts the skin back in the oven to crisp it up so it’s like a turkey crackling.
Then next, he slices the breast meat across the grain, and this way he’s able to get more servings from it than carving it in the traditional way. There were 8 of us for lunch, and we all had enough meat from just half the turkey. Usually when I’ve carved a turkey I have meat left on the carcass which I pick off for a hot-pot, whereas carving it this way you get more nice slices of meat and don’t need to spend so much time to get all the meat from it.
As it was a lovely summer day we had the turkey with a salad with roasted butternut squash and beetroot, which was a nice alternative to traditional roast vegetables and sprouts.
I’ve had several friends ask me what I’ll be having for Christmas dinner this year, suggesting that maybe after seeing the young turkeys I’ll choose a nut roast – but I can assure you that it’s still going to be turkey on the Woman’s Weekly menu – Kelly Bronze ones!