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Teaching the next generation of butchers

Gregg Rentfrow, meat scientist in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, works on separating a side of pork in the meat lab at UK. Photo: Steve Patton
These are the cuts of pork UK meat scientist Gregg Rentfrow carved from a side of pork. Photo: Steve Patton
Students in a UK Animal Sciences 300 class cut up pork carcasses in the meat lab on campus. Photo: Steve Patton

Gregg Rentfrow teaches meat science at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, where his curriculum includes butchering and meat cutting. The following is an edited version of an email Q&A with Kentucky Living. 

KL:Some people describe meat cutting as a lost art. Explain what that means. What is the art of meat cutting? 

Rentfrow: In the past, meat cutting was considered a skilled labor that had a ranking system: apprentice, journeyman and full meat cutter. Now, meat cutting is as simple as opening a box and starting at one end of the piece of meat and stopping when you reach the other end. 

In my opinion, the art of meat cutting is understanding all aspects of the industry from farm to fork. My goal is to teach students and the public about where their food comes from; how to humanely process an animal, fabricate the carcass into eye appealing retail cuts, how to make flavorful sausages, how to properly cook each cut and why; and what is the basic science behind meat. 

KL:In the years you’ve been teaching, how have the students changed? 

Rentfrow: When I started school in the mid-1990s the ag colleges were predominately male (70%) and about 50-50 urban/rural students. Now it’s 85% female and urban students. My ASC (animal sciences) 300 Meat Science class is a very hands-on class where students process live animals into carcasses. I cap my class at 40 students and a large number of boys for me is about 10. And the girls range from rural, farm girls to some from large metropolitan areas like San Francisco, Cincinnati, Chicago, etc.  Most are hoping to get into veterinary school, but others are looking for a different career.  

KL:How do you prepare students to work in the meat industry? 

Rentfrow: I feel that if I don’t teach and prepare my students to understand food microbiology/food safety, I have done them a big injustice. Another thing I tell my students is that they need to help figure out how we are going to feed nine billion people in the next 25 to 50 years. And we need to feed these people on a shrinking land mass, with more regulations, and serve a customer base that wants less ingredients in their foods, plus we have to make sure it’s cheap!

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