Mike Fogel owns and operates Buffalo Gal Inc. from the grounds of the Money Creek Buffalo Ranch in Houston, Minn. For the ranch’s contribution to the gourmet bacon market, Fogel raises Eurasian wild boar originally from the Black Forest, also known as the Russian boar. They are not the feral pigs known for causing trouble.
“A lot of what they call wild boar is actually feral swine that are just domestic animals that have gone wild,” Fogel said. “Unfortunately, the government, when they did the labeling laws, called them all wild boar, which they’re not.”
While the general wild boar all lumped together get blamed for wrecking habitat and killing deer among other things, Fogel said ranchers and farmers raising the authentic Eurasians do so for the meat and pay close attention to the boars, their housing and containment, health, etc.
“They’re valuable. You’re not going to just let them run wild if you’ve got a lot invested in them.”
Raising the Eurasian wild boar pays off with a bacon voted Best “wild” Bacon by Fox News in 2017 and one of the “Best Bacons Known to Man” in 2020 by men’s lifestyle website “The Manual,” but it didn’t start with bacon. Fogel began raising the Eurasian wild boars over 40 years ago. Originally, he sold them to game preserves for hunts.
“Ted Nugent had a game preserve in Michigan, and we’d sell wild boar over there,” Fogel said. “We’d send a semi at a time and we got pretty big in it, but that market just dried up. I was grandfathered in [to raise the Eurasian wild boar]. I didn’t want to quit because if I quit, they could never be on our ranch again. So, I stuck it out. We went through a period where they would come and check on me and check my fences and everything. Now they know what we’re doing and leave us alone.”
Once the game preserve and hunt market dried up, Fogel pivoted and moved to the wild boar meat market.
“We started doing the bacon, and we developed a real good market for the bacon – in fact, to the point where we couldn’t keep up. So, it’s a limited supply that we have.”
The Buffalo Gal Wild Boar Bacon contains less fat and produces far less grease than bacon from other types of swine, especially commodity type bellies. Fogel said the product works well beyond bacon served in traditional ways and suggests it for soups and mixed into hamburger patties.
Buffalo Gal slaughters 20 to 30 boar a month, but it’s not always enough to keep up with the demand for the $17.95 per pound bacon. When necessary, Buffalo Gal will outsource Eurasian wild boar bellies from a producer in Canada.
“We’ve got some people we’ve known over the years that raise the same Eurasians and we’ve just kept getting the bellies from them because it’s been a constant battle to try and keep enough supply,” Fogel said.
Buffalo Gal uses two facilities, one in Minnesota and one in Wisconsin, to process its wild boar. In addition to bacon, the company sells loins, chops, roasts and tenderloins. Sales consist of mostly mail order from the website and some high-end restaurants.
Early on, Buffalo Gal experienced some difficult dealings with retailers and foodservice distibutors and has since relied more on mail order, word of mouth and the website exclusively, as well as high-end and niche restaurant and bar customers.
“We have a small retail market at the ranch,” Fogel said. “I’d say 80% of our sales are online sales and repeat customers. We’ve probably got about 25,000 names on our mailing list that have ordered at least once.”
One bar in Wisconsin serves a buffalo burger made from Buffalo Gal’s bison meat and tops it with Buffalo Gal’s Wild Boar Bacon. Fogel said the place is very unique and the burger is one of its best sellers.
Over the years, Buffalo Gal and the Money Creek Buffalo Ranch have just been Fogel’s passion. Business, accolades and exposure have come organically. Fogel has no interest in “getting big.” He enjoys what he does, and any notoriety is just extra flavor.
“Andrew Zimmern, from the ‘Bizarre Foods’ TV show, we delivered a whole hog to him in Minneapolis and they cooked it up there at the restaurant and after that we got a lot of calls on the wild boar,” Fogel said. “So, there’s been a few things that kind of fell into our lap.”