A new Laotian recipe beef jerky is hitting the markets and was developed in part here in Marshall. Cool Jerk, developed by Mike Davis and Mali Kouanchao of the Twin Cities, is the recipe of Kouanchao's Aunt Thaipet.
"When my Aunt Thaipet makes it, she has a very specific technique and quality control," said Kouanchao. "She makes the beef jerky really thin. She uses lots of special seasonings and places careful attention to each piece of jerky."
"I've never tasted anything like it. I was hooked on it instantly," Davis said. "It's sweet. It's crisp. Everything I'd known about beef jerky growing up - the stuff you get at the convenience store or the truck stop - this was totally different. Even our friends became obsessed with it."
Davis and Kouanchao knew there could be wide interest in this down-home Lao treat that could appeal to the gourmet foodie as well as the backpacker looking for a portable snack.
The pair, who still keep their day jobs as a graphic designer (Davis) and a web designer (Kouanchao), started looking into ways to scale-up production to bring the jerky to market. In the process of cold-calling meat processors, Kouanchao learned about AURI and the services it provides to Minnesota-based food entrepreneurs.
Cool Jerk had a unique problem, said AURI Meat Scientist Carissa Nath, because it utilized a process that wasn't typical of most beef jerkies. This made it more difficult to find the right processor. Nath, who works out of AURI's Marshall labs and offices, used her network of resources, including the Minnesota Association of Meat Processors and information from an AURI meat processing survey, to connect the couple with Big Steer Meats in St. Paul.
In addition to helping find the right co-packer, AURI scientists Ranae Jorgenson and Charan Wadhawan conducted the nutritional analysis and testing work required for labeling. Nath also continues with work to know the shelf life of the product.
Davis and Kouanchao launched their product on the website cooljerk.net, where they made their first sales. They are actively seeking stores willing to carry their products and are currently in six locations in the Twin Cities. Cool Jerk will be in 11 different locations by the end of the summer.
Davis and Kouanchao have developed four distinct flavors:
Native Lao Hot
Sweet & Spicy
AURI's Nath is also helping the couple develop and test a second line of jerky that will include non-GMO ingredients and no MSG. These changes would help get the product into food co-ops, which set stringent rules about their products.
"It was a lot of fun," says Nath about working on Cool Jerk. "I enjoy helping to develop a product. I get to use my science background to help determine the right ingredients and cooking process to make the best possible final product."
"When people try Cool Jerk, they believe in it and they back us 100 percent," said Davis. "We just need to get it into more people's mouths and minds."