Several Centre County-area and regional businesses recently came together to look at innovative new ways to address an agricultural issue that many consumers are likely unaware of — the overabundance of ground beef in the marketplace.
“The biggest challenge in getting rid of any animal, whether it be a pig, beef, lamb, is the grind,” said Jay Young of Rising Spring Meat Company. “In a beef, you could have 400 pounds of ground beef; whereas everybody loves filet and New York strip and the fancier cuts, there’s a lot of the animal that isn’t that. You have to find a way to sell it and for people to buy it.”
This potential obstacle led to a partnership between Rising Spring Meat Company, Happy Valley Meat Company (located in New York, but working with farmers in the Happy Valley area), Drexel University and Kitchen Incb, resulting in a mushroom-beef burger hybrid.
“The mushroom project came about in our attempt to find new avenues to move ground beef (and) trim,” said Dan Honig, owner of Happy Valley Meat Company.
On a small scale, Honig said selling a few hundred pounds of ground beef a week is easy. But since everyone has the same problem — too much ground beef — it becomes very competitive when you reach larger customers, so the price point is very low.
“On top of that, we wanted to bring higher welfare meats to larger audiences; it shouldn’t just be a luxury good at fancy restaurants,” he said. “The mushroom industry has been working on blended mushroom burgers and we saw the benefit immediately.”
These benefits include larger volumes of product to meet big customer demands, a leaner product with lower negative health impacts compared to 100-percent beef burgers and fewer negative environmental impacts. It takes 1,800 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef, while 1 pound of water produces 1 pound of mushrooms.
Recognizing the obvious answer, Happy Valley Meat Company is now attempting to use mushrooms to bring high welfare meats to wider audiences and reduce the negative environmental and health impacts of beef. The end goal is to sell the mushroom-beef blend burgers to large-scale customers like hospitals, colleges, schools and event venues.
When looking for partners for the project, Happy Valley Meat Company went straight to Rising Spring Meat Company.
“They have gone above and beyond to cater to the needs of our customers and ensure that we put out a good product,” Honig said. “Jay’s vision of bringing food from the valley to the broader world goes hand in hand with our vision of getting more people higher welfare meats. They are our oldest and one of our closest partners.”
Drexel University provided the mushroom-burger recipe and Bob Ricketts, owner of Fasta Pasta and Kitchen Incb., joined the project as the “key in this latest formulation of the burger, where we wanted to work with the mushrooms and further process them,” Honig said.
Ricketts, who is preparing to move Kitchen Incb. to the Fasta Pasta location in Pleasant Gap to better accommodate larger projects such as this, said that the project perfectly fit the ethos behind Kitchen Incb.
Young seemed equally pleased to join Happy Valley Meat Company’s endeavor, mentioning the benefits that extend to the entire regional agricultural community.
“If you want to see farms grow, you want things like this to be happening. It’s the sort of thing that contributes to a vibrant agricultural economy,” he said. “(Rising Spring Meat Company) works with (Happy Valley Meat Company) on projects like mushroom burgers that will sell more beef that will allow (farmers) to slaughter more animals. It becomes a circle. We invite them into the community, they buy animals, we help them do whatever innovative thing they want to do to sell more meat, we get them more animals, the farmers can put more animals on their fields. The people that aren’t farming will see it and it becomes an attractive option.”
To-Jo Mushrooms in Avondale provided all of the mushrooms and Young is positive about the impacts such a project could have on regional mushroom growers (mushrooms are one of the most popular agricultural products in the state, with Chester County being the largest producer of fresh mushrooms in the United States) as well.
“If you can take mushrooms, put them in meat, sell more mushrooms, sell more ground meat, that’s a bonus for these two sectors of our agricultural economy,” he said.