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Making Links

Meat lab gives students a taste of the industry.

So you’ve got an RV full of Packers fans on their way to your place for a tailgater. You need meat, and fast. Where do you turn?

Here’s an option that may surprise you: UW-Madison’s Meat Science and Muscle Biology Laboratory. Opened in 1931, the lab operates much like a small-scale meat-processing plant, where white-coated staff and students harvest animals, process meat and prepare steaks, chops and sausages. Though primarily geared for research and training students, the lab began selling its products to the public last year, opening a small store in a converted spice room. Now students produce and sell everything from top sirloin to Polish sausages, all while closing the loop on their educational experience.

“Students are extremely responsible and intelligent,” says Kurt Vogel BS’06, who manages the lab’s 10 student employees. “It takes a lot to get into this school, and my feeling is that we should let them use their skills.”

A case in point arose this fall, when students Jordan Matthews and Clayton Wohlk approached Vogel about changing the lab’s recipe for sausage sticks. “We didn’t like the flavor of the stuff we were making,” says Wohlk, a junior dairy-science major, “so we changed some things around and added peppers.” Vogel liked the result so much that he had the students prepare a batch to sell in the store. They even designed a product label.

“The biggest thing is that now they can take something home to their family and say, “Look what I did,’” says Vogel. And rarely has homework tasted so good.