Meat season

Fresh cuts from the University Farm’s Meats Lab

Senior Agriculture major Hayden Clement makes the cut at Chico State’s Meats Lab.

Senior Agriculture major Hayden Clement makes the cut at Chico State’s Meats Lab.

photo courtesy of Chico State College of Agriculture

Meats Lab
The Meats Lab is part of Chico State’s University Farm, which is located on Hegan Lane off the Midway south of Chico. Follow signs for the Meats Lab.
Hours: Thurs.-Fri., 8 a.m.-5 p.m. 898-6028

While Henri is fully aware of the devastating effect that it appears the drought will have on California this year, he has also been reveling in the gorgeous weather and in fact for the first time in years actually has a case of printemps fever.

And so it was one recent afternoon that Colette talked me into a little afternoon drive. “It’s not the wilderness,” she said. “It’s orchards and farmlands. It’ll be fine.”

And she was right. It was more than fine, and we had an absolutely splendid afternoon enjoying the vibrant greenery and colorful blossoms. We were on our way back to Chico when we saw the sign for the University Farm.

“Let’s stop at the Meats Lab,” she said.

She turned down the little lane to the farm, parked in front of the lab, and we walked up the stairs and through the door to the counter, where a student greeted us with a price list. In the brightly lit stainless steel room behind her, a partly butchered cow hung from meat hooks.

“It’s OK,” Colette said. “Just look away.”

The 800-acre University Farm, or, more accurately, the Paul L. Byrne Agricultural Teaching and Research Center, was established in 1960 to provide hands-on educational opportunities for Chico State ag students, who work on all aspects of farming, from composting and irrigation to animal raising and equipment maintenance. There’s also an organic vegetable project.

In the Meats Lab, students learn butchering, meat preparation and preservation, and marketing, offering for sale to the public a wide variety of cuts of beef, pork and lamb, as well as sausages, bacon, pastrami and seasonal items (including turkeys at Thanksgiving by special order). They also sell to local eateries, including the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Taproom and Restaurant.

Since it was four days before St. Patrick’s Day, they had corned beef on special: We bought a beautiful five-pound brisket ($5/lb.). We also stocked up—got carried away might be a better way to put it: two racks of baby-back ribs ($4.50), boneless pork shoulder ($3.75), two huge porterhouse steaks ($9.75), a pound of cottage bacon ($6.25), and three varieties of sausages (Polish, Texas, and Louisiana hots—$4.50-$5 per each four-pack).

I cooked the corned beef for four hours in a Crock-Pot, adding a tablespoon each of whole cloves, allspice and peppercorns, a sliced onion, and a bottle of Guinness—it came out tender, moist and delicious, especially when slathered in Sierra Nevada Pale Ale mustard. For sides, I fried half the cottage bacon (cut from the shoulder, not the belly) and tossed in some cabbage and sautéed it in the rendered bacon fat, and Colette roasted some new potatoes with butter and rosemary. We washed it all down with more Guinness and by evening’s end Henri was feeling a wee bit like a Clancy Brother.

Next week, we’re going to head back out and pick up that leg of lamb. Can’t wait to revisit one of my favorite recipes.


Henri’s grilled spring lamb

Trim excess fat from one butterflied leg of lamb and place in large, sealable garbage bag. In a large bowl, mix four cloves minced garlic, 1/4 cup dried rosemary, 1/4 cup lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground anise, and one cup plain yogurt, and pour into bag with the lamb. Seal bag and set in large pan and refrigerate overnight.

Drain lamb, saving marinade, and place on grill over rosemary sprigs. Cook for about 50 minutes or to an internal temperature of 140 degrees, marinating every 10 minutes or so.

Serve with rosemary-and-butter-sautéed new potatoes, fresh green beans or asparagus, a crisp green salad and warm French bread—and the Guinness, of course, or good Italian red wine, such as a rich Barolo or a lighter Barbaresco.