Saturday, March 7, 2015

Eats: The MSU Meat Lab Store

Hello! Because of its roots in agricultural sciences, Michigan State University is sometimes derisively called "cow college" or "Moo U" - particularly by people from a certain in-state rival school. To those who jeer in such manner about my alma mater, I say, "So what?" I mean, we all have to eat, right - no matter where you went to school or whose sports teams you follow. Therefore, the ag research done at "cow colleges" benefits everyone.

Well, one benefit of colleges with ag research programs is the retail operations based on that research and the students' hands-on training. Currently MSU runs a very popular dairy store, has a food truck featuring products grown or raised on campus farms, and offers compost and seasonal produce for sale at the MSU Surplus Store. I know there's a student-run seasonal farm market too, but haven't gone there yet. 

And then there's the Meat Lab store. I don't know how long it's been in operation, but I just learned about it last fall in one of the regular e-newsletters we get from the school. It sounded worth checking out, so that we did while picking up our daughter at MSU for Christmas break (yes, she followed in her parents' footsteps - and no, we did not pressure her to go there). 

The Meat Lab store is really just a small room in a wing of the same building that houses the Dairy Store. There's one small counter with the cash register (credit cards accepted) and a small counter that runs the length of one wall. On that counter, and on the wall above it, are various signs and a white board listing what's currently available. Prices seemed to be competitive to grocery store meats, if not a little cheaper in many cases. 

It was a little overwhelming, so I just asked for a pork roast. Virtually everything is sold frozen, so a student employee went to a walk-in freezer to fetch our order. 

When I cooked up the pork roast at home, it really did look nice and fresh - the color was better than similar grocery store offerings and the quality was good. And it was good knowing that not only did we know where the pork had come from, but we were supporting research efforts and the students' hard work as well.

The student employee mentioned their email list, so I signed up for that. I knew we wouldn't drive to East Lansing every week, especially when bad winter weather set in, but I thought it'd be interesting to see what they offered. 

Saw Canadian bacon on the email list one week. That sounded good, and the employee had commented that the regular bacon is always a hot seller when they offer it. Another week, sides and 1/2 sides of beef were available. I liked the attached pdf, a list showing the cuts and poundage obtained from those sides. I'm sure that's typical when selling sides of beef, but I noticed several different handwriting styles on the list - a sign, I assumed, that different students had worked on the processing of the meat. Talk about a group project - quite a project indeed!

A couple of weeks ago it was announced that fresh chickens would be available, courtesy of the Avian Science Club's efforts. Whatever fresh chickens were left after a short selling period would be frozen and then sold that way. 

Yesterday another MSU break began - the spring one this time - so back we went to the campus to pick up our daughter. But before we did so we stopped back at the Meat Lab store. This time I was better prepared since I had gotten their latest email just the evening before. I purchased one of those whole chickens, plus a package of beef soup bones and a package of Italian sausages. There was really a lot more I could have purchased however - many more beef and pork cuts, plus lamb too. 

Here's what the package of Italian sausages looked like:

And here's a close-up of the label:

That's a very straight-forward ingredients list - just the meat and various seasonings. 

I cooked up the sausages to have on hand for lunches and had one today for that meal. The flavor was mild and the texture was very good. I wouldn't hesitate to buy them again. 

The only downside to the Meat Lab store, I think, is the limited hours of operation - as in no weekend or evening hours. I believe the exception to that is MSU football Saturdays; the store is open then to sell brats to tailgaters (or so I seem to recall reading when I first learned of the store).

If you'd like to learn more about the Meat Lab store, go HERE.


  1. The jerky was really good. We're going to have to ration that. Can't wait to try the brats and with this nice warm weather it might be sooner than later. Of course, the snow never stops by husband from grilling year round.

  2. Hooray for the Meat Lab store - another "Victory for MSU"! I just broiled my Italian sausages, but I'm sure grilling would have been even better.