DILLON - This is cattle country, and the University of Montana-Western intends to see that meat from area ranches is on campus menus.
With that goal, cooks in Western's dining service are learning how to prepare more cuts of beef than customarily have been offered at the school.
Campus cooks and administrators recently went to Dillon's Beaverhead Meats, where they watched meatcutter John McGinley work through big quarters of beef.
"When you buy a whole beef, there are a lot of other cuts that you need to find some use for," said Cheri McCarthy, head of dining services at Western.
Consumers want to know the origin of the meat they eat, she added.
Last year, members of a trade group told McCarthy they didn't want beef as part of the catered meal the school was preparing for the group's annual convention. That changed when McCarthy said the school serves beef produced in the Dillon area.
"People are just asking for this locally grown stuff like crazy," McCarthy said. "More and more people want to know where their food is coming from."
The college buys beef from Beaverhead County ranchers Wally Congdon and Eric Kalsta.
Western also uses other regional foods, ranging from apple cider to popcorn, as part of UM's Farm-to-College Program. It originated in 2003 at the university's flagship campus in Missoula, when four graduate students in environmental studies worked with university food-service officials to foster purchases of food produced nearby.
McCarthy said responses from students at Western's cafeteria, and from people eating catered meals on the campus, have been positive.
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