The Copas birds

    Go free range for turkey delight this Christmas

    29 November 2017

    What will you be tucking into this Christmas? There are more options than ever – and in recent years, Britons have diversified their festive tastes. Goose has made a comeback; venison and wild boar, long popular in Germany, have made a play for our affections. But turkey still rules the roost.

    This Christmas, Britain will eat some 10 million turkeys – that’s one for every seven of us. Most of them will have lived fairly dreary lives. Poultry farming is known for its ruthless efficiency, and turkey production is no exception. Modern turkeys are bred for weight gain above all else. They are reared in tightly packed pens, so as to maximise the conversion of feed into meat; many will never see the light of day.

    A few, however, will be more lucky. Right now, it’s full steam ahead down on Copas Turkey Farm, in Cookham, just outside Marlow. This year, the farm’s birds will provide the main event for 30,000 Christmas lunches, across the UK and beyond. These aren’t any old turkeys. They’ve featured on Saturday Kitchen, won Great Taste Awards, and found favour with a slew of celebrity chefs.

    The real deal

    So, how do you go about creating such prestigious poultry? Copas turkeys are reared longer than typical farm birds: 26 weeks, up to 14 weeks longer than some. This longer lifecycle means that they have time to develop a thick layer of fat under their skin, which gives the meat greater flavour and prevents it drying during cooking. The birds spend 80% of their time outdoors, roaming freely in the Berkshire countryside.

    The obvious problem this creates – fox predation – is solved, rather charmingly, by a herd of alpaca who live cheek by jowl with the turkeys. The Copas family bought Sage and Onion as an experiment a few years ago. It was a roaring success, and they were swiftly joined by Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen.

    All good things must come to a end, of course. In late November, the Copas turkeys get the chop. They are dry-plucked, hung for two weeks, then sent to customers and stockists around the country.

    The farm’s dog and alpacas keep guard

    This year is the 60th anniversary of the Copas turkey farm – first established when Tom Copas Senior’s father decided to buy his son 153 turkeys to keep him out of trouble. To mark the anniversary, the family have brought out two books. One is a picture book aimed at young children, telling the tale of the family and its farm, and featuring the alpacas. The second, a cookbook, showcases the recipes, kitchen tricks and wisdom accumulated by the family over their years, with guest contributions from the likes of Gizzi Erskine, Allegra McEvedy, and the Hairy Bikers.

    So, if you do end up splashing out on a luxury bird, how do you ensure it arrives at your table in perfect condition? Here are a few tips:

    Only stuff your turkey from the neck end. Stuffing the body cavity can impede airflow and make the bird cook unevenly.

    Even the best turkey will taste like cardboard if it’s overcooked. To avoid this, use a thermometer probe: the turkey is ready when it reaches 74ºC at its thickest part. (Copas include a special pop-up probe with every order.)

    Rest the turkey for at least 20 minutes after cooking. Don’t be tempted to skip this step: during resting, the muscle fibres relax, which makes for a much juicier bird.

    For guaranteed Christmas delivery, last orders of Copas Traditional Turkeys will be December 18 for delivery on December 23. Copas Turkeys, Kings Coppice Farm, Grubwood Lane, Cookham, Maidenhead, Berkshire SL6 9UB