Farm to Campus to Table: UK Agriculture and Dining Services Work Together to Form ‘The Butcher Shop’
It’s not true that nobody wants to see how sausage gets made. For UK ag students, it’s part of their educational process.
Making its grand opening this past February, a University of Kentucky affiliated butcher shop is getting locally processed meat to the Lexington community. A long time in the making, Gregg Rentfrow, a meat science professor within the UK College of Agriculture, said that establishing a butcher shop “was something we had in our mind that we always wanted to do.” For years, however, the logistics were simply not there for UK Agriculture to set out on this retail mission alone. “It wasn’t until we teamed up with [UK] Dining Services that this dream could become a reality,” Rentfrow explained. “We had equipment they needed, and they had equipment we needed.”
The inspiration for the butcher shop, other than adding to the amount of locally produced food options, was one of precedence and opportunity for students. Rentfrow noted that most land grant universities have retail sales, and many that do meat and dairy; the butcher shop is a way for UK to get itself to the same standard. Rentfrow also said that “we have many students that work there and interact with the customers. They have to think on their feet and apply the knowledge that we’ve given them.”
This ability to reach out and work with graduate and undergraduates in the College of Agriculture has landed the butcher shop major UK attention. Alexis Thompson, an Animal Science major going pre-Veterinarian, said that “people in the [College of Agriculture] are really excited about the shop. Many think it’s a good way to have a full cycle of livestock from birth to a marketable product.” All of the meat is sourced from local farms and processed through the College of Agriculture’s USDA meat facility.
While fostering student meat retail experience for UK students, the butcher shop is also a major asset for local foodies on the lookout for some tasty meats. The butcher shop offers timeless favorites like dry-aged ground beef, dry-cured bacon, breakfast sausage, bratwursts, and chorizos, but also keeps up with new beef and pork cuts and innovations in butchery. The shop also crafts its own specialties: “wildcat tails,” a unique blend of school spirit and cheese-filled bratwurst, are a major favorite. Other exclusive selections include some old European-style sausages and “bourbon apple brats” that include locally grown apples and bourbon.
“Believe it or not though, the most popular is the ground beef,” Rentfrow says. This is followed by the store’s Italian sausage that “you can buy anywhere, but we order fresh oregano and basil” to make it exceed expectations. Rentfrow explained a procedure called “blooming” that he claims “give the spices a bit more punch” and works to further distinguish the shop from other meat stores.
When asked about future plans, the meat science professor offered some interesting ideas that may expand the butcher shop’s role in the community. “We’re thinking about making things seasonal items, like Christmas hams. We are also kicking around the idea about being open for home football games.” Rentfrow said the shop came by the idea when looking at other successful university butcher shops and how they garner public interest. “Penn State does this now and they sell majorly on those days. Mississippi State is just a block away from the football stadium too” and they also report high sales. (The Penn State Meat Market has a facebook page.) Rentfrow is not yet sure about this bold move. “We aren’t sure if it would be a colossal failure or major success.”
The UK butcher shop is open Wednesdays and Fridays from 1-5 PM. It’s located in the basement of Garrigus Hall on Cooper Drive just off of South Limestone. Look for the UK butcher shop sign in the loading dock area on the Garrigus building or go down the stairs from the first floor.
The possible privatization of UK food services had not yet been resolved at press. UK Dining currently has a sustainability program in place that involves buying Kentucky-grown food.