Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Who (or What) is Chester?

One of the centerpieces of the Brazilian buffet table, especially at Christmas, is  often a poultry roast looking a bit like an overgrown chicken, labelled "Chester." It's roasted, sliced and served like a turkey, though the taste is closer to chicken than it is to turkey. You can also find whole Chesters in Brazilian supermarket freezers wedged between smaller frozen chickens on one side and frozen turkeys on the other.

Chester is clearly not a Portuguese word, and if you ask Brazilians what a Chester is (and we have), the answer usually is something like "Well, it's a Chester." Because of the visibility of Chesters at this time of year, clearly a bit of gastronomic sleuthing was in order. Flavors of Brazil has decided to get to the bottom of the whole Chester mystery because most of the Brazilian public doesn't seem to know what one really is.

It turns out, after minimal research on our part, that the word Chester is trademarked in Brazil by a large meat-packing and poultry firm called Perdigão. If it's a Chester, then it's a  Perdigão product. According to company website and to an article in the Portuguese language Wikipedia site, in the late 1970s Perdigão began an international search for a variety of chicken that could be marketed as a roasting chicken with a high percentage of breast and thigh - one that was just the right size for a typical Brazilian family of 4.5 persons. During their international search, the firm's aviculture technicians found a hybrid cross of chickens that fit their requirements at a US firm called Cobb Vantress. Geneticists at Cobb Vantress, using a natural genetic line from Scotland as their base, had developed a variety of chicken that produced a roasting chicken which yielded up to 70% breast and thigh meat, just what Perdigão wanted. Perdigão bought the rights to this cross and began raising the birds in Brazil in the early 1980s.

In 1982 Perdigão launched the Chester nationally in Brazil. They chose the name Chester, apparently, because the marketing department wanted to emphasize the large amount of breast meat (or chest meat if you will) that the bird delivered, and probably decided that Chester sounded better than Breaster. The Chester brand was an immediate success, and is today still one of Perdigão's most prestigious brands.

Because the genetic line of the bird is patented in the USA and Perdigão has exclusive rights to it in Brazil, all Chesters raised in Brazil are delivered to Perdigão for marketing and sales. In order to protect their investment in the Chester, sale or distribution of eggs is prohibited.

All Chesters are raised on a 100% natural grain diet, principally corn and soya. They are fed no animal byproducts. They are non-medicated; that is, they are not given antibiotics, growth hormones or steroids to increase the speed of their growth or to increase their weight. Their larger size is strictly due to genetics.

Christmas is by far the largest season for Chester sales in Brazil, just as it is for turkey. But Chesters are available year-round, frozen. In addition to the Brazilian market, Perdigão now exports Chesters to 25 countries around the world.

We've eaten Chester and liked it, and have roasted it at home. It's medium size makes it more practicable than roasting a large turkey in a small Brazilian oven, and if properly roasted the bird is juicy, flavorful and tender. And Chesters do seem to be particularly "busty" - there's a lot of breast meat in comparison to other parts of the bird. If we were to market the Chester in the USA, we wouldn't call it a Chester at all - it would be a Dolly. Named after Dolly Parton, of course.


  1. Thanks so much for doing all that research! I've always wondered about that.

  2. Just had my first one two days ago, in Brazil. They couldn't explain to me what a Chester was, they just kept saying "It's Chester". Thanks for the info!

  3. I wish Americans could eat meat that pure and good affordably. Sigh

  4. Hi, does anybody know if it is possible also to get a Chester (also if frozen) in Europe?

  5. I'm from Brazil and never really thought about it, until my "gringo" friends asked... now I know hehe thanks :)

  6. Does anyone know where a market where one can purchase a Chester" (or two, or three...) ?

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  8. As someone who comes from [near] the English city of Chester, I can assure Brazilians that our local maidens are indeed busty, and have long been so due to the widespread availability of delicious local dairy products. We therefore have immense pride that our chicks are standing out in the crowd and carrying all before them in Brazil.

    [Keith Johnson, Wellington NZ See: http://kjohnsonnz.blogspot.co.nz/2015/10/dont-bad-mouth-cheshire-we-started-it.html ]