Tucked away in the countryside, off a remote dirt road surrounded by fields of farms and fresh air is a little turkey farm not too far from Seoul. Venturing past suburban neighborhoods to a place where addresses are few and far between, the busy bustle of city life are all but left behind. Coming upon Mr. Cha’s turkey farm takes some effort, but after traveling on a winding narrow path towards his large coops, the sounds of just a few hundred bronze turkeys ‘gobble gobble’ to alert of pending visitors. It’s a quaint life at a small farm in Korea where these birds are raised on clean grass and grain, getting fat for the fall and winter holiday seasons.
Each year, Mr. Cha, only raises a limited number of turkeys to mainly serve a very niche market of foreigners in Korea who celebrate Thanksgiving. Nestled among wheat fields, he is among just a few other farmers that specialize in turkey and has kept his farm small to meet local demands for this very special occasion. He works alone for the most part and spends his time tending to his flock day and night, letting the turkeys roam freely in wide open spaces in a stress-free environment. Caring and feeding all year round, the poults (baby turkeys) hatch in the spring then in the summer he personally cuts fresh grass to feed them. Following ethical farming practices, he says it’s better than just normal feed and he never uses antibiotics.
Mr. Cha started raising turkeys at a young age along with a few chickens and other small animals. Growing up in the countryside, he always loved farming and remembers 30 years ago when there were a lot more turkey farmers. In the late 1980’s the Korean government tried to raise the demand for the bird loved so much by westerners. Farmers were encouraged to grow turkeys even though there were not a lot of slaughterhouses for them. The government also imported large amounts of them into the country. Unfortunately, the taste for the savory large breasted bird never picked up in Korea and demand never flourished. Koreans preferred to eat chickens. With declining margins and nobody eating turkeys, many farmers stopped farming them.
Even today, turkey is rare in Korea. There are so few grown in-country that they are not even legally considered livestock. More of a novelty for most Koreans, Mr. Cha sells a good number of them as pets instead of for the dinner table he says. Turkeys can live a maximum of 10 years and if you look carefully, they can be found roaming around countryside areas enjoying full lives into their old age.
Those who buy his turkeys to eat really love them and say it’s the best turkey they’ve ever tasted. While Mr. Cha’s turkeys can be a bit tougher than regular commercially raised turkeys imported from elsewhere it’s because they get a lot of exercise. There’s something really delicious about fresh, free-range, and organic he says. If you’ve never tasted one before, there is a significant difference in quality, texture and taste that makes a case for ethical farming practices. Epicureans typically turn to organic turkeys for their flavor as well as health benefits. Organic turkeys are notably healthier and have less risk for salmonella and other issues.
While in recent years there has been an increase in diversity of international foods found in Korea, turkey dinners are still difficult to find except for at a handful of 5 star hotels and restaurants. Frozen turkeys imported from Australia can occasionally be found at Costco. For those lucky enough to have US military base access which is restricted to most of the general public, commercially frozen butterballs can be found in the commissary.
For those who celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas, it’s a special time of year to spend with friends and family. To be able to take a moment and be grateful for each other and share a special meal is the centerpiece of this holiday. Warm memories meant to be cherished for a lifetime can easily be awoken by the aroma of a turkey in the oven, cornbread stuffing, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes and other fixings. It’s these delicious smells and tastes, where the given effort to prepare the feast can take you home even when you are so far away from home. Comfort food comforts for a reason.
This Thanksgiving and Christmas, bring home that nostalgia by trying a farm fresh local turkey. Take the time to cook this meal and enjoy it with the people you care about the most and leave the clean-up to someone else – Wonderful has you covered. For those worried about small oven sizes in Korea, don’t worry… Mr. Cha’s turkeys come in 3kg, 5kg, and 6kg sizes until they run out. You can also roast turkey in parts instead of the whole bird. The results can be surprisingly delicious in this unconventional way of preparing turkey. If you’ve ever roasted a turkey you know the legs and thighs cook more quickly, while the whole breast can take a bit longer to cook. By taking it apart first, each section can be made perfectly and also seasoned differently for a nice variation of flavors. Add some carrots, onions, whole garlic cloves and bon appetite!
(To order Mr. Cha’s organic free-range turkeys, message Wonderful. They are delivered farm fresh so we recommend scheduling your delivery based on when you plan on cooking it. No deliveries are available on Sunday’s and Monday’s and from December 24 to 26. On special request, turkeys can be delivered frozen – please allow time for defrosting in the refrigerator before cooking. Lastly, there is a limited supply of turkeys since it is a small farm so please place your order early.)
Regarding our pricing, we charge for the time taken working on your request at 800 KRW/min (There is a 15% discount for first time users), and you can get a refund on the remaining time within 3 months. There are NO processing fees when you pay us via bank wire transfer. (You will pay only the cost of the item(s)). When we charge your bank card, there is an 8.5% processing fee that goes to the payment processor for their services. We do NOT benefit from this fee. For more information regarding our pricing, please follow this link.
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