Before Larry Borchert BS’62 MS’64 PhD’67, there was no beef jerky in Russia. At least none where he visited.
“I found out on my first trip to Russia that they didn’t know what jerky was,” says Borchert, an adjunct professor in the animal science department. “And once I made it, they really fell in love with it.”
Borchert, who spent 30 years in research and development for Oscar Mayer, traveled six times to Russia between 2000 and 2007, visiting small meat processing plants that were struggling with the transition to capitalism. Under the Soviet regime, meat processing facilities were state-owned and operated, he explains. “Then, all of the sudden, they became privatized. Through all sorts of different mechanisms, people acquired private sausage companies, and in many cases they didn’t know what they were doing.”
As a volunteer for the U.S. Agency for International Development, Borchert worked with eight plants to develop new products and improve safety processes. “My role was to help in whatever way I could,” he says. In the western Russian city of Smolensk, for instance, that meant teaching workers a better way to cut up a pork carcass. In a Siberian plant, he demonstrated smokehouse cooking to workers who were losing sausages—and wages—when casings fell apart during boiling. He also visited three colleges, where he described modern American sausage-making techniques to students who in one case were learning from a textbook printed in 1964.
Not all of his ideas went over well. When he cooked bacon for his host in a small Siberian village, she didn’t like the fried meat, saying she’d rather eat it raw, with a swig of vodka.
But when it came to jerky, everyone wanted a bite. “I think every place where I taught them how to make jerky, they commercialized it and are still making and selling it today,” he says.