Horning in on beef


Horning in on beef

Bison meat heralded as lean and high in protein

By KAREN HERZOG kherzog@journalsentinel.com, Journal Sentinel

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Mayville — It isn’t every day one can watch buffalo roam, and taste the low-fat, high-protein meat that American Indians thrived on long before beef cattle ruled the land.

Hundreds of curious Milwaukee and West Bend area residents visited the Badger State Bison ranch Saturday and Sunday during Wild West Weekend to check out the humpbacked animals more commonly seen out west.

The majestic animals, known as both bison and the American buffalo, did not disappoint. Neither did the grilled bison brats and burgers that visitors purchased in the garage of Jim and Mary Krieger’s ranch-style house at Badger State Bison, near Mayville in Dodge County. This was the fourth year the Kriegers hosted Wild West Weekend and invited the public to taste the difference between buffalo and beef.

“The first year we did it was more of a thank you for our regular customers at the Brookfield Farmers Market. We wanted to show them how our animals are raised, since people always ask about that,” said Mary Krieger.

The Kriegers raise about 40 buffalo. Wisconsin has an estimated 7,500 to 8,000 buffalo on farms such as this one. Buffalo meat is touted as a healthy alternative to beef. Those who raise the wild animals are quick to point out they are nowhere near extinct, thanks to the farms that keep herds vital.

An estimated 400,000 buffalo live in North America — up from the all-time low of a few hundred buffalo in the late 1880s, according to the National Bison Association. Bison is the species name; one theory suggests the first settlers coined the name buffalo because the explorers thought they were in India, and that the buffalo roaming the North American prairies were actually water buffalo.

Mary Krieger, a registered nurse, grew up on a dairy farm and ate beef until her family purchased the farm in 1989 and decided to raise buffalo on about 20 acres of lush pastures. Their buffalo rotate between two pastures and eat mostly grass. They are not treated with steroids or antibiotics, and are minimally handled to keep them wild, Krieger said.

“Buffalo are genetically, naturally lean,” she said. “They don’t store a lot of fat and their meat has a higher protein content because they actually use their muscles, rather than standing in a feed lot.”

Beef cattle, on the other hand, have been “genetically altered through the years to grow faster and bigger,” Krieger said.

Buffalo meat is denser and a deeper red than beef; its flavor is similar to beef and not at all “wild.” It has about one third fewer calories than similar cuts of beef, according to The Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition, by Sheldon Margen and the editors of the University of California at Berkeley Wellness Letter (Rebus, 1992, $29.95).

Ground buffalo has 2.42 grams of fat per 3.5-ounce serving, while lean beef and pork have 7 grams each and skinless chicken breast has 4 grams, according to the encyclopedia. Because it is so lean, buffalo is typically cooked at a lower temperature for a shorter time to avoid overcooking.

Buffalo is more filling than beef because of its high protein content, Krieger noted. She was first attracted to the meat, though, because it’s low in cholesterol. Within a few months of switching from beef to buffalo, Krieger said her cholesterol level dropped 75 points.

Krieger and her family naturally eat a lot of bison. One of the family’s favorite recipes is bison tacos. Mary Krieger browns a pound of ground buffalo in a skillet, then mixes it with a 16-ounce jar of salsa and cooks it in a crockpot at low heat for 3 to 8 hours.

The Kriegers shared several recipes with visitors over the weekend, while personal chef Phillip Peppler, owner of Chef on the Run in Wauwatosa, offered samples of bison chili.

A number of visitors left the ranch with fresh frozen, vacuum- packed bison brats, burgers, summer sausage, snack sticks, roasts and steak, hoping to reap the benefits of the promising beef alternative.

Marbeth Bierbasz, 60, of New Berlin bought three bison summer sausages for her beef-loving husband, Don, 65, who has heart problems.

“He still likes his summer sausage and brats,” said Bierbasz, who sampled a bison burger at the farm.

Don Bierbasz was happy about the purchase and promised Krieger they would stop by the Brookfield Farmers Market, where the Kriegers sell buffalo meat every other Saturday morning, including this Saturday. In addition to providing lean meat, buffalo are curious creatures.

“They’re very low maintenance,” said Krieger, who noted that both she and her husband work full-time jobs off the ranch.

Buffalo bulls weigh about a ton at maturity, while cows average 1,000 pounds. They can live 40 years.

Surprisingly, buffalo can run 30 mph — “faster than our horses,” said Krieger. Once buffalo start running, they can keep going for many miles because their windpipes are more than twice as big as the windpipes of beef cattle, she said.

Buffalo also can turn on a dime and jump at least five feet straight into the air.

“That’s how they survived for 10,000 years,” said Georgia Derrick, president of the Wisconsin Bison Producers Association. “They’re very graceful runners,” she added. “People are always enchanted when the herd rumbles past. Their feet barely leave the ground.”

Derrick and her husband, Jim Atten, are getting ready to host their own buffalo event, July Fest, at their Packwaukee ranch, BisonRidge Ranch, about a half mile from the shores of Buffalo Lake in Marquette County. July Fest runs Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Visit www.bisonridgeranch.com for directions.)

According to Ho-Chunk tribal legend, the last buffalo seen alive in the wilds of central Wisconsin was run into Buffalo Lake and drowned, Derrick said.

About 270 buffalo now roam near the lake on Derrick and Atten’s ranch. For those who can’t make it to July Fest, the couple offers regular tours of the ranch at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., Thursdays through Sundays.

“These animals look placid, but that’s misleading,” Derrick said. “You don’t confine them in barns or handle them a lot. They are very territorial and they’re social with an obvious pecking order.”

To those who fear eating buffalo meat will lead to the animal becoming endangered, Derrick says the opposite is true. “They’re not endangered, and you help the herd by buying the meat because that encourages people to keep raising them.”

Buffalo meat is about twice as expensive as beef, with ground buffalo running about $5 per pound on average. The most expensive buffalo cut is tenderloin, which typically costs $14 to $20 per pound.

Derrick said a buffalo produces about the same amount of meat as a steer, but the shrinkage of buffalo meat during cooking is significantly less.

Al Weyker, owner of Lake View Buffalo Farm in Belgium, has built a regular customer base at two downtown Milwaukee farmers markets — the Wednesday market at Zeidler Union Square and the Saturday market at Cathedral Square.

“Some people buy it every week or every other week,” he said.

Last week, a Chicago man visiting the Zeidler market was so excited about discovering buffalo tenderloin that he dashed into The Shops of Grand Avenue nearby to buy a cooler so he could take some home, Weyker said.

Weyker, a former dairy farmer, has been raising buffalo since 1996. He’s convinced it’s the red meat of the future.

“It tastes like a fine grade of beef,” Weyker said of buffalo. His herd has grown to about 65 buffalo. “There’s tremendous growth in the market. People are eating healthier, and if they want red meat, this is the best choice.”

Jeremiah Callies, 5, of Mayville, is part of the next generation of buffalo consumers.

He attended Wild West Weekend with his family, sporting a buffalo head cap he picked up while his family was visiting Yellowstone National Park in June — home of the nation’s largest wild buffalo herd.

Jeremiah has been fascinated by the beasts since he was old enough to talk.

The Callies family was happy to see a buffalo herd close to home, and to enjoy a few buffalo burgers.

Buffalo (bison) is as easy as beef to cook with, and the Krieger family’s bison recipes prove it. Here’s a family favorite.

Bison Cheese Ball

1/2 pound bison summer sausage 8 ounces chive-and-onion cream cheese 1/2 cup chopped pecans Wheat crackers

In food processor, mix bison summer sausage with chive and onion cream cheese. Shape into ball. Press chopped pecans onto ball. Serve with wheat crackers. Makes about 12 servings.

Here’s a crowd pleaser from Georgia Derrick, president of the Wisconsin Bison Producers Association.

Bison Chuck Roast

2 tablespoons olive oil 3 pounds chuck roast 1 to 2 teaspoons minced garlic 1/2 teaspoon pepper 1 1/2 teaspoons beef base 1/2 cup burgundy 1 onion, sliced thin 3 to 4 cups water

Heat olive oil in heavy skillet, brown meat very well on all sides (the secret to dark, rich sauce or gravy is in the browning).

Mix garlic, pepper and beef base with burgundy in small mixing bowl.

Place roast in slow cooker and cover with sliced onions. Pour spiced burgundy over the roast, add water and cover.

Cook on low setting 6 hours, or until meat is falling apart. Add water as needed so meat does not dry out. Shred and mix well with sauce. Spoon generously on fresh sliced French rolls. Makes about 10 servings.

Derrick said this nacho recipe is not only simple, it’s fun to make — and eat. She figures it serves four people, or one hungry Packers fan. “This is one of these ooey, gooey dishes that you set in the middle of the table and everyone gathers round to eat with their fingers. You’ll need lots of napkins,” Derrick says.

Georgia’s Buffalo Chips

1 medium onion, diced (about 1 cup) 2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil (divided) 1 pound ground bison 1 to 3 teaspoons chili powder 10 to 12 ounces large tortilla chips (about half a large bag) 8 ounces grated Monterey jack cheese 8 ounces grated cheddar cheese 1 cup sour cream (divided) 1 jar (16 ounces) favorite salsa (divided) 1 small can (2.25 ounces) sliced olives, drained 2 ripe, mashed avocados or 1 cup prepared guacamole 1 jar jalapeno peppers (optional)

Brown diced onions in olive oil, add ground bison and cook until it barely loses its “pink,” being careful not to overcook. Add chili powder and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Lightly oil baking sheet or large pizza pan. Place tortilla chips in heap in middle of pan. Spoon meat mixture evenly over chips. Add cheeses and spoon on half the sour cream. Pour on half the salsa. Garnish with sliced olives. Bake in preheated oven until cheese is bubbly and slightly browned, about 15 minutes.

Serve with mashed avocado and remaining sour cream and salsa in separate dishes along with the jalapeno peppers, if desired. Makes 4 servings.

The last two recipes are from Chef Phillip Peppler, a personal chef with his own business, Chef on the Run, in Wauwatosa. Peppler prepared buffalo chili and buffalo fajitas at Wild West Weekend festivities.

Denver Shredded Bison

7 to 8 slices bacon, diced 1 large onion 1 jalapeno pepper, diced small 1/2 teaspoon chili powder 1 teaspoon ground cumin 1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice 2 pounds buffalo roast 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 tablespoon tomato paste 1 can (14 ounces) stewed tomatoes 2 cups chicken broth 1 bay leaf 8 flour tortillas (10 inches each) 7 to 8 ounces fontina cheese, shredded 1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro Salt to taste, if desired

In Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed stockpot over medium-high heat, cook bacon until almost crispy. Render most of the fat, keeping it in the pot.

Add onion, jalapeno, chili powder, cumin, oregano, coriander, thyme, cloves and allspice and stir until all are completely incorporated and heated through.

Add bison roast, garlic, tomato paste, stewed tomatoes, chicken broth and bay leaf and reduce heat to low simmer. Cover and simmer 60 to 90 minutes, or more, stirring occasionally to ensure it doesn’t stick or burn. When roast begins to fall apart, remove from heat.

Remove roast from stockpot and shred with fork into bite-size pieces. Return shredded bison to stockpot and stir to evenly coat meat and incorporate all ingredients. Cook another 15 minutes at low heat to reduce juiciness, if desired. Remove bay leaf.

Heat tortillas in microwave on medium (50% power) for 30 to 40 seconds, or until soft and pliable.

Divide meat mixture between tortillas, sprinkle with cheese and cilantro, wrap burrito-style and serve. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Note: May be frozen and reheated on medium (50% power) in microwave.

Bleu Cheese Bison Loaf

1 large onion, diced 3 cloves garlic, minced 2 tablespoons butter 12 ounces mushrooms, diced 1/2 cup tomato sauce 1/4 cup red cooking wine 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano 1 teaspoon basil 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper 1 3/4 to 2 pounds ground bison 1/3 cup fresh parsley, minced 1/2 to 3/4 cup bread crumbs 2 eggs 4 ounces bleu cheese, crumbed (divided)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In saucepan, saute onion and garlic in butter 1 to 2 minutes over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and saute just until they start to release their moisture and onions are tender.

Add tomato sauce, red wine, thyme, oregano, basil and pepper. Place ground bison in large mixing bowl and add tomato-red wine mixture. Add parsley, bread crumbs and eggs and mix until everything is completely incorporated. Add 3 ounces of the crumbled bleu cheese and mix until mixture has chunks of cheese uniformly distributed.

Place in 9-by-5-inch loaf pan, dot top with remaining 1 ounce bleu cheese and bake in preheated oven 35 to 45 minutes, until no longer pink in the middle. Serve warm. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Note: May be reheated on medium (50% power) heat in microwave.


Buffalo meat is widely available in Milwaukee-area stores. Visitors to the Wisconsin State Fair also can buy buffalo burritos in the Wisconsin Products Pavilion, from July 31 through Aug. 10. Or, for those willing to travel a bit, BisonRidge Ranch near the shores of Buffalo Lake, Packwaukee, will host its annual July Fest on Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (see www.bisonridgeranch.com for details.) The event is open to the public.

Those wanting to buy buffalo meat at area stores should call ahead to be sure the cut of meat you’re seeking is available.

— Frozen buffalo — and some fresh meat — is available at several area specialty food stores, including all four Sendik’s market locations; V. Richards Market and Grasch Foods, both in Brookfield; and the White Buffalo Intertribal Store, 7629 W. Becher St. in West Allis.

— In addition to supplying buffalo meat to the Sendik’s stores, Lake View Buffalo Farm in Belgium also supplies the Pick ‘n Save in Mequon, the Saturday morning East Town Farm Market at Cathedral Square and the Wednesday Westown Farmers Market at Zeidler Union Square, both in downtown Milwaukee.

— Badger State Bison sells an assortment of buffalo meat every other Saturday at the Brookfield Civic Center Farmers Market.

Copyright 2003 Journal Sentinel Inc. Note: This notice does not

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