It’s formally known as the UltraSource Academy, but it’s really pretty much a “meat class.”
I found out about this 2 1/2 -day, hands-on, meat-centric workshop when my partner at Flavor Trade LLC, Shannon Kimball, got invited to take part in the latest academy held at UltraSource here in Kansas City.
UltraSource holds these classes to introduce new equipment and new techniques in the meat processing arena. Attendees learn techniques and use equipment that can improve everything from safety to efficiency, helping them make better products, or even giving them ideas for developing new ones.
I asked the folks at UltraSource, a provider of food processing and packaging equipment and operational supplies with a 130-year history, if I could visit with some of the students and the teachers and see first-hand what the academy was all about. I received an enthusiastic “yes.”
I first chatted with Brad Baker, a food scientist and one of two UltraSource employees leading the academy. “Our goal is to bridge the gap between scientific principles and practical applications,” Baker said.
Baker said the attendees are mostly involved in food production, many at the plant level. They come from a diverse background, a fact borne out by the 297 students who’ve attended the academy from 36 foreign countries since classes began in 1997.
Treanna Lindo made the trip from Clarendon, Jamaica. Lindo works for a group called Heart Trust/NTA, a national training agency. Her division trains in agricultural processing and hospitality.
She says she’s applied to the academy several times in the past, but finally got into this session.
“It’s fantastic. It’s a course anyone in the meat processing industry should do. It’s not just science, but it’s real-life applications,” Lindo said. Lindo says it’s her hope to take what she’s learned in Kansas City and bring it back to her students on the island.
Jennifer Witthaus’ trip was much shorter, straight across Interstate 70 from Jonesburg, Mo. Witthaus is a part-owner of Davis Meat Processing, a plant that takes animals from slaughter to the finished product. This was the second time Witthaus had attended the academy.
It’s been 11 years since Witthaus went to her first UltraSource Academy. She thought it was time for a refresher course. “I know they have a lot of new equipment, so I’m looking forward to learning the different applications. What’s more, there are new spices, seasonings, and additives that I can apply to our products,” Witthaus stated.
Witthaus says networking with her classmates is also a big benefit of the academy, and she says UltraSource works really hard to keep this informational and practical, avoiding any kind of sales pitches for new equipment.
“Our goal is to be a resource for customers. A lot of these folks are owner-operators, so these classes give them hands-on methods to reduce failure while improving consistency and efficiency,” Mike Ryan, UltraSource’s Director of Processing Equipment Sales, told me.
In addition to acquiring knowledge, the students did an impressive amount of production as well. I saw the more than two dozen products they created during their times in the kitchen, everything from ribs, to hams, to summer sausage and braunschweiger.
They were all lined up to be doled out and tasted by students and teachers in a final UltraSource Academy luncheon. I was invited to stay and taste, but I had another appointment, so I couldn’t stay. I hope to correct that in the future. Should Flavor Trade get another invitation down the road, I hope to be the guy attending this educational “meat and greet.”
Dave Eckert is a partner with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based gourmet food incubator and co-packer. Before that, Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.