The Creamery now carries five flavors of salami, five flavors of beef jerky and three flavors of meat snack sticks, all made at the Meats Lab.
The partnership is not a new one, noted Susan Watson, the Creamery’s commissary manager, who said that the Creamery has been selling the lab’s award-winning summer sausage for 25 years. Watson herself has been at the Creamery for almost 32 years.
“The Creamery and the Meats Lab have a long history, but these new products are taking that relationship to a whole new level,” said Jim Brown, assistant manager at the Creamery.
For each product and process, the Meats Lab, under the Department of Animal Science, is required to have a series of food-safety protocols in place, and there are additional regulations for products sold to outside vendors. For products to be sold at the Creamery, the Meats Lab had to develop new food-safety protocols and have their product labeled “USDA-approved.”
Meats Lab Manager Glenn Myers, who has been at Penn State for 25 years, said the success of the summer sausage was part of the reason for the decision to extend product offerings, but he also hoped this change would promote the College of Agricultural Sciences and get the Meats Lab’s name out to the public.
All the meat sold is produced on Penn State’s own farms, and the Meats Lab is involved in every stage — from harvest of the livestock to packaging and marketing of the meat products. The lab has three full-time employees and generally employs eight to 10 student workers. Currently, the facility runs a weekly meat sale during the spring and fall semesters from its retail location on Porter Road.
When Myers approached Watson about trying different products, she invited him to bring samples to one of the Creamery’s weekly samplings. Along with a smorgasbord of jerky, a questionnaire was included for tasters to provide feedback.
Five flavors of dry Italian salami hit store shelves in June and have been very successful. The salamis also are available on the Creamery’s e-commerce site, joining 72 flavors of ice cream, 20 hard block cheese flavors, 10 kinds of dips and spreads, and six flavors of cream cheese, along with grilled stickies, coffee, cheese gift boxes and Creamery memorabilia.
Brown noted that most of the items sold on the Creamery’s website are produced either locally or at Penn State.
Myers said that jerky and snack sticks always have been available at the Meats Lab’s retail store, but moving this product to Creamery shelves meant the lab needed to increase output, so it purchased a second smokehouse.
“Even with one smokehouse running five days a week, we wouldn’t be able to produce the amount of product needed if we were going to be selling it at our own retail store and at the Creamery,” he said.
The flavors of jerky include a barbecue bacon called “Sweet Caro-Lion,” a chipotle lime flavor labeled “Lion’s Roar,” a hickory-smoked flavor named “Farmhouse Hickory,” a buttery prime rib offering dubbed “Beaver Canyon,” and a hillbilly jerky called “Coaly’s Heehaw.”
In what Watson calls the age of “grab-and-go” food, all three new products are quick snacks and further evidence of the Creamery’s efforts to offer the products its customers want in the forms that they need.
While pleasing to the taste buds, adding these new products to the Creamery lineup has not been without its challenges. For the Meats Lab, it meant not only changes in processes, but also transitioning from supplying one product to supplying 14 products. Watson must balance commissary display space with customer demand, along with keeping track of inventory for the Creamery store, the e-commerce store, and dining halls across all Penn State campuses.
“This is a new aspect of our partnership, and we don’t really have any sales data behind it,” Brown said. “We hope our customers will be compassionate and understand that this is new for us, too. The first year is going to be a learning curve.”
Watson, Myers and Brown agree that the benefits to the University outweigh the challenges.
“With our products, we support Penn State and specifically the College of Ag Sciences,” Brown said. “We keep it in the family. Everybody helps everybody and lends a hand where it is needed.”
Added Watson, “You are helping each other because you belong to the same entity. And that is the agriculture industry. We are keeping it local and doing what we can for Pennsylvania and Penn State agriculture.”
Penn State’s Berkey Creamery, the largest university creamery in the U.S., produces ice cream, cheese, milk, yogurt and sour cream, as well as a variety of other products, such as juices, lemonade and iced teas, made for sale and distribution to the University community.
The Creamery also offers products from the University’s other facilities, including bakery items, eggs, mushrooms and local honey. Cows from Penn State’s dairy herd provide milk for the Creamery’s fresh dairy products, averaging about four days from cow to Creamery treat.
For more information about the Creamery or its products, visit https://creamery.psu.edu. More information about the Meats Lab and its weekly meat sales can be found at https://animalscience.psu.edu/facilities/meats-lab.
–Kelly Jedrzejewski, Penn State University