When it comes to premium bison, know your supplier

Noble Premium Bison has everything you and your clients are looking for. Kelly Long, co-owner and award-winning producer/exporter, talks about what to look for in purchasing Canadian bison, and why it’s important to align with a producer who will deliver that quality, each and every shipment.

How did an entrepreneur from Toronto end up in the bison industry?

Met a guy (laughs). Pieter had a bison ranch in Northern Alberta and I fell in love with that life. At the same time, the bison industry was experiencing a downturn. We decided there was more than farmgate marketing—that we could do this on a much larger scale. So I built the business plan that launched Carmen Creek Bison.

Prior to launching Carmen Creek and now Noble Premium Bison into the North American and European markets, you were a rancher. How has that experience informed your role now as producer/exporter?

As a rancher, I understood the inputs that were necessary to produce great meat, and by that I mean the animal raising practices and how you manage your land. As producers, my partner and I at Noble understand how animals are valued in terms of the end market, and how that value is delivered to the consumer.

So it’s an invaluable combination, that you’ve worn both those hats.

Absolutely. My business partner is an experienced and respected rancher/producer who works on the supply side ensuring we have quality animals in our supply chain, and it’s my responsibility to get us to market. We manage the entire process together, the whole value chain, so technically we’re vertically integrated. This is important because it means at Noble Premium Bison, we’re hands on at every stage, from farm to freezer.

Noble is a new bison brand into Europe. What’s the biggest challenge as a Canadian producer/exporter and how have you dealt with that?

For someone not currently in the industry, trying to access the industry and build relationships would be a challenge. We’ve had those relationships in place, as well as the understanding of how export works and how to get your company export ready. Languages and understanding the different cultures is also a hurdle, and we’ve managed to meet those challenges as well.

From your customers’ perspective, what’s the biggest challenge in importing Canadian bison?

I would say consistency of product and supply. We work with a great network of vendors; from my transport companies, both on the ground and in the air, to our clearing agent. It’s a reliable network that’s taken years to build. Our clients often tell me, “You know the industry, you know the product and you know us”, which means they can rely on us to deliver a premium product consistently and efficiently. I proved that with Carmen Creek and we’re proving it again with Noble Premium Bison.

What would you tell your clients to look for when it comes to purchasing bison?

Clients need to know the supplier, and ensure that supplier delivers safe, high-quality product. They need to make sure the product comes from an inspected facility, that there are safe handling protocols in place from farm through harvest, as well as a tightly managed cold chain to the final customer.

With CETA in place, (the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement), Canadian producers can now export all different qualities of product to Europe. Pre CETA, we could only export premium, grain-finished bison. Now we can send what we want so buyers should make sure they work with a producer who is only exporting premium quality bison, like Noble.

As an importer, what should I look for in terms of quality?

It’s important to understand what criteria is important to your customers; what contributes to a quality eating experience. It might be a specification, a size or a specialized cut. Dealing with Noble, you’re assured of premium quality grain finished bison meat from youthful animals, raised without hormones or antibiotics. More importantly, you want to know that the quality is consistent from shipment to shipment.

Nutritional aspects of bison over beef and other animal proteins are well known, but what in your opinion is the bison ‘umami’ when it comes to flavor?

Bison has a similar flavor profile to beef but because it’s leaner, more of the flavor comes from the meat instead of the fat. It’s slightly sweeter and richer without being ‘strong-tasting’. It’s a product that chefs can impart their own ‘umami’ to very easily.

Let’s talk cuts. Noble has dozens of classic and creative cuts available. What’s the difference?

Bottom line – profitability without sacrificing taste. Classic Cuts like tenderloin and sirloin will always be in demand. But, the nice thing about cuts that are often overlooked, what we call our Creative Cuts, is that they can add a lot of value to a menu. The flank steak, flat iron, and petite tender for example, are all items that are super versatile with a great flavor profile and come with a high profitability.

What are some of your own favorite cuts and why?

The short rib, flank steak and back rib. The short rib because the flavor is so rich and intense and is easy to enhance by braising and marinating. I love the back rib – it’s the same meat as the prime rib but is so close to the bone that it adds loads of flavor. All you need is a favorite dry rub, wrap the ribs in tinfoil tightly, and roast in the oven for a juicy, gorgeous taste experience.

Do you have a favorite recipe?

My back ribs…maybe I’ll share my secret recipe next blog post.

Is there a Canadian advantage when it comes to bison?

Beyond our wide open grazing spaces, clean water and air, Canada also has very strict protocols when it comes to animal care, handling and processing. I believe all that combined gives us a Canadian advantage.

What are you most excited about in bringing Noble Premium Bison to Europe?

I love the European market and the customers – they’re adventurous, curious, and open to trying new products. They’re a foodie culture through and through, and we believe that Noble Premium Bison will be a welcome edition to the chef’s table.