Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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April 7, 2014

UK Meat science coordinator slices into culinary arts program

COALTON — Gregg Rentfrow is a scientist, a tradesman and an artist with a razor-sharp knife, and he demonstrated all three traits Monday by carving a freshly slaughtered pig into cuts of meat.

Watching Rentfrow slice loins, chops, ribs and other succulent cuts were toque-clad students in Ashland Community and Technical College’s culinary arts program.

Rentfrow is the meat science coordinator at the University of Kentucky; he teaches at the university and works with meat producers and 4-H and FFA groups for the UK Cooperative Extension Service.

He has a Ph.D in meat science and muscle biology, but learned his craft the real-world way, working his way through community college and university as a grocery store butcher.

He has been doing it long enough that he wields his knives — and occasionally a three-foot saw — as deftly as a painter would a brush, coaxing a perfect boneless loin from a mass of meat, bone and connective tissue with a few strokes and a flick to flense off a final layer of fat.

Rentfrow’s demonstration also spotlighted the growing local food trend. His pig was on the hoof 24 hours earlier and was slaughtered at Miller’s Meats in Catlettsburg on Sunday.

Signs of the local food trend can be seen in farmers’ markets, the front-yard gardens that are showing up in front of urban dwellings, and state initiatives like the Kentucky Proud designation for food produced in the Commonwealth.

UK has a seat on the local food bandwagon; the university spends about $1.3 million per year buying food for its dining halls and other meal service operations.

“People like to know where their food comes from,” Rentfrow said. “And it helps the local economy.”

He started his surgery by sawing off the hock, the central part of the hind leg, then separated the hindquarters. Rentfrow punctuated his work with remarks about aitch bones, sacral vertebrae and how to tell the age of an animal by the color of the ribs.

Following that, off came the forequarters and the blanket of fat from the belly; the fat and its layer of attached skin is marketable for food products such as cracklings.

Rentfrow separated the tenderloin from the loin and sliced it into boneless chops. This was perhaps the operation of most immediate interest to the students because the chops were to be their luncheon main course.

Most of the students are bound for careers in restaurants, catering, health care nutrition and the like, and may never need Rentfrow’s skills. However, said culinary arts program director Peggy Bradley, knowing how it’s done will help them market their products to consumers.

“If you know how it’s produced, you can explain it to a customer,” she said.

From a nutritional standpoint, a food service professional who knows how the animal was raised, where each cut of meat comes from and how it can be used will be in a better position to put fine food on the plates of diners, according to Bradley.

There’s potential profit in knowing meat-cutting principles, according to culinary student Chad Hall, who was seasoning chops and flopping them on a grill. Hall hopes eventually to open his own restaurant.

“It’s knowledge we can use to buy a wholesale product in our restaurants, fabricate our own cuts and save money,” Hall said.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or

(606) 326-2652.

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