A herd of bison makes for an unusual sight on the green pastures around the small village of Collex-Bossy, in the canton of Geneva. Visitors do double-takes when they first see the burly, hump-backed creatures grazing in the fields not far from the Geneva airport, against the snow-capped backdrop of the Jura mountains and the Alps.
But the bison have become an ingrained, if unconventional, part of the village’s agricultural scene. While still far from being a mainstream item sold in supermarkets, bison meat has earned a local reputation as a tasty, low-fat alternative to beef. And a small but growing number of breeders across Switzerland are now raising the wild animals, originally native to the North American prairies. They are following in the footsteps of Collex-Bossy farmer Laurent Girardet, 53, who launched a pioneering initiative more than 20 years ago. In 1990, Girardet decided to import ten bison from Alberta, Canada with the goal of raising them for meat, at the time a first for Switzerland. Now he has more than 130 of them, supplying two local butchers and several gourmet restaurants that take all he can provide.