Sheri Schafer’s students are getting a better understanding of cooking with pork, thanks to her creative teaching methods and some help from pork farmers.
Altamont High School, where Schafer teaches, was one of 24 schools awarded grants last spring by the Illinois Pork Producers Association. The association spends $10,000 annually to provide teachers with support in culinary courses. The association recently handed out 22 more grants for the fall. The awards average $500 per school, depending on size and other factors.
Schafer made the curriculum a cooking competition that boosted enthusiasm among her students, who learned the finer points of pork dishes. Dubbed “Pork Chopped,” it is based on the Food Network’s popular Chopped show that pits chefs against one another in a culinary challenge.
“We cook practically, with one hour to prepare the food,” she said. “They make it all from scratch.”
Schafer had used a similar method in the past, but the grant put pork in the forefront.
“The grant made it where I could spend more time on it and money on cuts of pork,” she said. “Pork was the focus after I got the grant. The students came to realize how versatile it is.”
Pork producers have faced challenges historically in consumer acceptance. Much of that can be contributed to changing science. In the past, the fear of infection of the bacteria listeria prompted dietitians to recommend cooking the meat to an internal temperature of 160 degrees or higher. Years ago such guidelines were relaxed.
“We do struggle with that, especially with the older generation, because they had to cook it to 160 until it was flavorless for precaution,” said IPPA’s Jenny Ring. “They also went through the change. Our practices are clean and healthier. You can cook that pork chop to 145, and it will be juicy and delicious.”
While ground pork should still be cooked at the higher temperature, other cuts greatly benefit from the newer recommendations.
It is the third year IPPA has provided money to promote pork in classrooms.
“We send a care package that has cooking temperature posters for their classroom along with a really nice digital thermometer,” Ring said. “They also get a poster with main pork cuts of meat with nomenclature.”
A flash drive is preloaded with content, including videos from the National Pork Board with temperature graphics, instruction on how to use thermometers and how to cut up a pork loin. There is also information about pork production.
To that end, the schools are offered personal visits from producers to get first-hand accounts of the industry.
“We always give them an invite,” Ring said. ”If they want to bring a farmer to the classroom we will connect them with one to talk about pork production. It’s not a requirement, but we really encourage that.”
Schafer said the program has been a hit at her school.
“They get very into that,” she said. “We talk about meat, poultry and fish before we do that tournament, and we talk about cooking and food safety.”