Few animals more poignantly symbolize the Great American West than the buffalo, the regal-looking creature that once roamed so much of this land. In the early years of this country, buffalo was threatened with extinction by thoughtless hunters and colonizers who took recreation in pointless slaughter and hoped to gain the collateral benefit of depriving indigenous people of a principal food source.
In the 19th century, American and Canadian governments worked together to ensure the survival of this magnificent animal that increasingly seemed associated with a wild time in our collective North American history that was fading from memory.
Last week in Lanaudière, Quebec, I had the opportunity to visit Le Terre des Bisons, a bison farm run by the husband-and-wife team of Josée Toupin and Alain Demontigny. She's a former banker and he's a former car mechanic; like many of the small farmers I met in Quebec, these are people who abandoned their first professions to go back to the land and resurrect the old ways…and the old animals.
To clarify, what we call "buffalo" and "bison" are the same creature, though the buffalo species are technically native to Asia and Africa and the American bison is native to only North American. Our new world bison were mistaken by early settlers for old world buffalo, and the latter inaccurate name stuck.
La Terre des Bisons is set on 400 acres, a portion of which is devoted to the cultivation of this native breed.
In Quebec, I made a point of eating as much bison as I could, and one of the finest renditions I had of this meat was in a raw tartare at Le Trou du Diable, a brewery in Shawnigan, Quebec. Bison is leaner meat than beef; simply ground with spices, the flavors are showcased without a touch of greasiness. I did not find it at all gamey.
Back home in Oak Park, I decided we should grill some for dinner. When I called the Jewel in River Forest to see if they carried "buffalo," the man in the meat section had no idea what I was talking about. When I said "it's also called bison," he said, "Oh yeah, we have like six different cuts of bison."
So we bought the ground bison. At $10/pound, this is not cheap meat. Overall, the price of bison seems unusually high: 4 bison Italian sausages, a total of about 12 ounces in all, is about $12, steep for sausage.
The bison burger was great, however, much meatier and tastier than your average beef burger, just excellent meat. And it's lower in fat and cholesterol than beef.
Given the choice between average beef and average bison, I'd probably go with the bison. It's worth the extra dollars per pound.
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