Talk about local beef! At the University of Kentucky (UK), in Lexington, dining services recently partnered with the university’s department of agriculture to open a full-scale, USDA-inspected butcher shop. Scott Kohn, executive chef/assistant director, says the idea for the shop grew out of the department’s increasing interest in local purchasing.
“Since UK is an ag school we thought it made sense that we should be supporting our local farms,” Kohn says. “We’ve grown to $1 million in local purchases. When I got into purchasing local proteins, I was finding that I was going through the high-end meats much faster than things like hamburgers or top rounds. So we wanted to come up with a way to use the entire animal and move that product through the dining hall.”
Nuts and bolts: The shop offers a wide variety of products such as dry-aged ground beef, dry-cured bacon, charcuterie, chorizo and several different sausages including beef and pork varieties. Kohn’s team also created some signature items such as a cheese bratwurst called Wildcat Tail and a bourbon apple brat made with local apples, Kentucky bourbon and dry-cured bacon. The shop plans to start ramping up its production to feed more of the campus’s protein needs next school year. The shop is also open to the public two days a week.
“We’re also talking about putting some specialty burgers together to sell at the butcher shop,” Kohn says. “We recently experimented with the aged beef and made Jucy Lucy Burgers out of it and a few other specialty burgers. We’re thinking we’d roll these out not only to retail but also to our residential dining halls.”
With the shop, Kohn says they’ve been able to add the culinary education piece to the animal science program. “We’ll have classes on the different steps of charcuterie, breaking down an animal into the cuts of meat and how to age it,” Kohn says. “Everyone talks about how far did your hamburger travel? Well, we know where ours come from, where it was processed and who handled it.”
Challenges: Kohn says the biggest challenge was navigating the red tape of opening the shop, especially since they didn’t want to compete with the local community too much. “We have to make sure our pricing is equal to or higher than anybody else’s prices in town,” Kohn says. “We reprice things every week to make sure we’re not undercutting the community businesses because that’s not what this is about. It’s about teaching students and getting high-quality products for our dining operations.”