OSU’s food science students are an economic force unto themselves. Student entrepreneurs are designing and crafting artisan-style, commercial-quality meats, cheese, and beer in OSU’s labs and serving them up with a heaping helping of enthusiasm. In the process, they’re making themselves extremely employable.
STUDENT BREWS MAKE WORLD NEWS
Last fall, OSU fermentation professor Tom Shellhammer got a call from Jeff Edgerton, brewmaster at BridgePort Brewing Co. in Portland. Edgerton, an OSU alumnus, was developing a trio of brews to commemorate the company’s 30th anniversary. The three-beer project, dubbed Trilogy, was to be a salute to BridgePort’s past, present, and future.
Edgerton told Shellhammer that he wanted to inject some youthful energy into the development of the third installment. How about bringing some OSU student brewers on board?
Shellhammer rounded up fermentation science undergraduates Ryan Howe, Robert Proffitt, and Jason Zeno and graduate students Meghan Peltz and Dan Vollmer. They climbed aboard a 12-passenger state van and headed north.
“We’ve worked with BridgePort before; we’ve done some of their pilot trials,” says Peltz, who’s in her second year of a master’s program in sensory research of hops and barley. But this, she says, was the first time OSU’s fermentation science students had been invited to partner on a commercial product.
OSU’s pilot fermentation lab opened in 1996 in response to a need for real-life flavor evaluation of hops. Sensory scientists were trying to identify the best-tasting hops for beer. They soon realized that sniffing the flowers or sipping their nectar “only carried you so far,” says pilot lab manager Jeff Clawson. “To find out what these flavors will do in beer, we needed to make beer.”
On their way to Bridgeport, Clawson and the students threw ideas around. They decided they wanted to shoot for a “sessionable” beer, not too alcoholic, suitable for a lengthy drinking session. They wanted a brown ale with notes of nuts and evergreen. “We wanted it to be like Oregon,” says Zeno, who grew up in Pittsburgh. “Earthy, piney, like a hike in the woods.”
By the time they sat down with Edgerton, they had a rough recipe in mind. Edgerton liked the way they were thinking and told them to go ahead. “As an Oregon State alum,” he says, “I jumped at the opportunity to partner with these students to create Trilogy 3. When we were coming up with ideas for the beer, I couldn’t help but think about how the future of brewing in Oregon, and in the United States, was likely in that room.”
The students developed the initial recipe and took it through five trials at the OSU pilot brewing lab, making adjustments with each trial. After a bit more tweaking at BridgePort, Trilogy 3 was unveiled: a dry-hopped caramel malt ale, brown in color and rich in flavor, and lighter than the other two Trilogies, coming in at 5 percent alcohol.
In November 2014, Trilogy 3 took a gold medal at the European Beer Star competition in Grafelfing, Germany. “That was a huge deal,” says Shellhammer. “We were up against 1,400 entries, and there are very few categories.” He believes Trilogy 3 is the start of something big for OSU’s fermentation science program. “We weren’t just playing,” he says. “This wasn’t just wishful thinking. There was a spot waiting for this beer to be brewed, and we stepped up and filled it.”
STUDENTS LEAD THE WHEY
At 5:30 on a Monday morning, Food Science students Eva Kuhn and Nick Hergert wait on the loading dock behind Withycombe Hall on the Oregon State University campus. A small tank truck heaves into view, carrying 244 gallons of creamy raw milk from OSU’s dairy center. The students hop down and clamp a sanitary PVC hose onto the tanker’s port. They turn on a pump, and in a few minutes milk starts flowing into a steel-jacketed water-bath vat in the Withycombe Hall creamery.
More students arrive in the predawn light. They don hairnets as they prepare the cheese culture, the rennet, and the pressing hoops, settling in for a 12-hour day of making Beaver Classic cheese.
Kuhn loves food and everything about it—she used to compete in “Iron Chef”-style cooking competitions. She got excited about a dairy career when she took a class from Lisbeth Goddik, professor and Extension specialist in dairy processing in OSU’s Food Science and Technology department.
The Danish-born, American-educated Goddik has done extensive research on artisan-style cheesemaking in Europe. Five years ago, with financial help from Oregon’s cheese industry, Goddik remodeled space in Withycombe Hall into a creamery. She installed a state-of-the-art Dutch cheese vat and started teaching her students to make mozzarella, chèvre, Gouda, and Camembert-style cheeses in the artisan way—by hand, in small batches, from local ingredients.
The first Beaver Classic cheese—“The Original”—was launched in 2012. Made and marketed by students, it’s advertised as Alpine-style with “a nutty, sweet, and subtle flavor… developed during 9 months aging in our natural cheese cave.” (The “cave” is actually a big refrigerator where the cheese ripens at a constant temperature and humidity.)
Since then, the students (now guided by OSU cheese master Robin Frojen) have created three more varieties—The Swiss, The Hop, and The Peak—all of which are available plain or smoked. The students sell half-pound wedges of Beaver Classic at the campus creamery on Fridays and peddle them at football-game tailgate parties. The cheese is also available at Market of Choice, Costco, and some Safeway stores, and from the student-run Beaver Classic website.
“What’s nice about cheesemaking is that you get to be a part of the entire process,” says student cheesemaker Nick Hergert, a junior who’s double-majoring in food science and microbiology. Kuhn agrees. “I just love the hands-on aspect,” she says. “We start with the raw material—the milk—and at the end of it we have cheese! And if it’s good cheese, then … wow!”
And it is good cheese. At last summer’s American Cheese Society competition, The Peak proved worthy of its name, winning first place in the mozzarella-style category and beating out commercial entries from all over the United States.
Like all good entrepreneurs, the students keep an eye out for the next big thing. Perhaps it will be ice cream. There was a time when you could get a scoop in Withycombe Hall, at the counter next to where the theater box office is now.
“I was selling cheese at the creamery one Friday,” says Hergert, “and this older couple came in and told me they’d met right here. Over an ice cream cone.”
“That’s too sweet,” says Eva.
STUDENTS BRING HOME THE BACON
Ten-pound wheels of smoked Beaver Classic cheese jostle for space in the smoker among award-winning hams, bacons, and sausages made and sold by OSU’s meat science students at the Clark Meat Center.
In the meat center’s tidy retail store, customers might choose from fresh steaks and chops, cooked and uncooked sausages, smoked ribs and jerky, dry-cured salami and mortadella, and even dog treats made from beef hearts and livers and pork skins.
The retail butcher shop has been a part of the Clark Meat Center ever since it opened in the 1970s, says Nathan Parker, a master’s student in animal sciences who supervises student workers at the meat center. It’s been student-run since 2011, but the products in the store have always been student-made.
“The Clark Meat Center is where animal science students get hands-on experience and practice with every phase of meat processing,” Parker says. The steps include careful handling and slaughter of the live animal, safe handling of the carcass, grading and breaking the carcass down into “primals,” “subprimals,” and retail cuts, and crafting value-added products like bacon and sausage.
Some of the animals are raised by students in OSU’s Steer-a-Year club. Others are purchased or donated from outside ranches. All killing is done humanely, in strict keeping with animal-welfare laws and regulations. “In recent years,” Parker says, “everybody has wanted to be educated on the whole process, everything from when the animal comes in until the meat goes out through the retail store.”
Store work is a sought-after job, and openings are rare, says Parker. The store’s newest employee, Matt Cugley, is a senior double-majoring in animal science and communications. Though he comes from cattle country—his family raises hay and cattle near Roseburg—Cugley didn’t know much about the finished product before he hired on.
“It’s really interesting to me, to see the anatomy, to learn and practice how to properly fabricate a carcass,” he says. And it’s a marketable skill, too: Cugley has already been offered a summer job with a butcher near his home.
Bacon and sausage are staples in the store. “We specialize in value-added products,” says Parker. “And we’re always tweaking them, trying to add a little special something.” Case in point: a succulent chicken-bacon-ranch sausage created by animal science student Claire Logue won a Reserve Grand Champion award at the Northwest Meat Processors Association convention in Seaside.
Graduates who know how to make good food and good drink can walk into a good job, says Lisbeth Goddik. And students become even more employable when they get entrepreneurial experience, working with their peers to brainstorm, develop, make, and sell a product.
“Our mission is to supply Oregon and the world with good graduates,” Goddik says, “and that’s what we do. And that really is economic development.”
Trilogy 3 Brewers’ Class, a Collaboration with Oregon State University
OSU helps Oregon's breweries get ahead of the (six) pack
Oregon's artisan cheese industry ages well with OSU's help