Bison makes its mark

01 January 2000
Bison makes its mark

ONE way of counting the number of visitors to the World of Hospitality was to count the number of used cocktail sticks at the bison tasting stand hidden behind the British Gas chef competition stadium.

By the end of the fourth day of the show more than 6,000 people had tried a slice of bison, one of the few truly new food products to be launched at Earls Court.

Thoughts that bison meat is just another novelty line were dismissed on the second day with the news that Whitbread could soon be trialling bison steaks and burgers in 300 of its pub-restaurants in south-west England.

According to John Sullivan, managing director of bison meat importer Vin Sullivan, Whitbread is keen to introduce bison, and it was just a matter of coming up with the right cut and recipe.

Vin Sullivan has been importing bison meat by air from Alberta, Canada, for six months but the World of Hospitality was the unusual meat's first public outing.

Bison herds used to roam freely across North America, but were nearly driven to extinction by the end of the 19th century.

Today, bison are off the endangered species list and are being farmed by ranchers such as Dan Plumb, who supplies Vin Sullivan.

Mr Plumb has been selling bison meat in Canada for ten years but this is the first time Canadian bison has hit the UK market.

The meat has become popular in Canada because it is extremely lean and has a low cholesterol level. As for the flavour, it tastes like properly aged free-range beef. Some people said it is "like meat used to taste" before factory farming went mad.

Bison's main drawback in the UK is that it is expensive and costs around the same as venison or veal. The fact that it comes from a non-EC country means it has an import duty of 20%.

The shape of the beast also means that its fore-quarter accounts for 45% of the total carcass weight, compared to 20% in cattle. Topsides sell for £8.50 per pound.

Due to a high degree of wastage during butchery, Vin Sullivan has launched bison burgers which are also extremely lean and sell for 98p for a 4oz burger.

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