Living Local: Penn State meat market

December 1, 2013 

Sometimes on a Friday morning, dozens of people have no beef with standing in line in a parking lot across from Beaver Stadium.

That’s because they’re waiting for the steaks, chops, roasts, ribs, smoked hams, hamburger and other carnivore’s delights for sale inside the nondescript tan building along Porter Road on the Penn State campus.

Once a week during the spring and fall semesters, the Penn State Meat Market sale, held in a corner of the Penn State Meats Laboratory, offers the best marbled cuts and sides produced by the university’s animal science department.

Animals raised in the campus swine, beef and sheep facilities are butchered, and the meat then processed and cut, in the 16,000-square foot, U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected building.

“It starts out on farms and ends up on the customers’ tables,” said Glenn Myers, the laboratory manager.

Chicken roasters and fryers are also available, but they’re prepared in a separate poultry facility and delivered to the market.

Typically, the market runs from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., as the sign marking the parking lot entrance attests.

At 9:45 a.m. on a recent Friday, 10 customers filled the small area before a packed meat case. Behind the counter, five employees in white coats hustled to wrap orders in crinkling butcher paper.

Nobody had to stand outside on the landing, unlike at the start of grilling season, when lines can form early. It’s strictly first come-first served, and when the market is out of something, you’re out of luck.

“If the weather is nice and people feel like barbecuing, all the steaks are gone pretty quick,” Myers said.

But by the next week, more will be ready.

Each school year, the market prepares and sells roughly 221/2 tons of beef from 60 head of cattle, about 15 tons of pork and literally a ton of lamb. Selections are cut the day before the sale.

In addition to such favorites as dry-aged steaks and roasts, the market offers fresh bacon, scrapple, pork sausage, summer sausage, smoked pork chops and beef snack sticks, one of the more popular items. All of the aging, curing and smoking are done on the premises.

Sales support the animal science department as well as the lab itself. Built in 1958 and occupied two years later, it includes research labs and two classrooms for teaching about meat processing and the meat industry.

Myers worked in the market as a Penn State student before graduating in 1989, and has overseen the lab for 19 years. He said the market remained something of a local secret until word got out in recent years and its reputation spread.

“One of the main things now is more people are connected to their food,” Myers said. “They want to know where it comes from, where it was raised, how it was prepared.”

Elizabeth White, of McAlevy’s Fort, is no trendy newcomer.

For 45 years, she has dropped by the lab on Fridays to stock her fridge and freezer. Last month, she left with several Delmonico steaks, 11 pounds of bacon, two kielbasas and five pounds of hamburger.

“I actually only came for the bacon and kielbasas,” she said. “The others were impulse buys.”

She said she continues to shop at the market every few weeks, sometimes spending as much as $300 a pop, because “the quality of the meat is superior.”

The steaks, she said, are restaurant quality, and the chickens aren’t far behind.

“You can take a bite of white meat and it tastes like meat, rather than a piece of wood,” she said.

A full price list can be found at http://animalscience.psu.edu/facilities/meats-lab.

The market will be open Dec. 6, 13 and 20 before closing for winter break and then resuming on Jan. 17 for the spring semester.

— Chris Rosenblum

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