The art of dry ageing
The story around dry ageing is really about improving eating quality and producing a unique complex range of flavours by storing fresh beef in a humidity and temperature controlled environment for a period of time. The art behind dry ageing is being capable to tell when the beef is at the point when the complexity of flavours is at its optimum while maintaining some juiciness.
What's the process to dry-ageing?
Dry-aged beef is beef that has been hung or placed on a rack to dry, generally for 28 days. This is often considered the “optimal" time for dry age fresh beef. The beef will continue to age for longer periods however consider the waste component and the flavour profile you are trying to achieve before proceeding. Highly marbled beef cuts can be aged for considerably longer periods due to their higher fat content allowing more complex flavours to develop. The longer the meat is dry aged for the stronger the flavour and increased moisture loss. The most popular cuts to dry age are the cube roll, striploin or rump. If you are ageing shortloins, consider removing the tenderloin prior to ageing to reduce yield waste. The meat should be well trimmed, removing all signs of the crust that has developed over the muscle. Once trimmed and sliced the meat should have a nice deep cherry red colour. **Rendered beef fat can be applied to the thinner cuts (including tenderloin) and face of the primal to reduce waste**
The key effect of dry-ageing changes beef by two means, the concentration and saturation of the natural flavour, as well as the tenderization of the meat texture. This occurs by the beef's natural enzymes breaking down the connective tissue in the muscle, which leads to more tender beef. The process of dry-ageing usually also promotes growth of certain fungal (mould) species on the external surface of the meat. This does not cause spoilage, but rather forms an external "crust" on the surface of the meat, which is trimmed off when the meat is prepared for sale or cooking. These fungal species complement the natural enzymes in the beef by helping to tenderize and increase the flavour of the meat. The genus thamnidium, in particular, is known to produce collagenolytic enzymes which greatly contribute to the tenderness and flavour of dry-aged meat.
The safe production of dry-aged meat.
The Food Safety Plan specifies a range for temperature (-0.5 to +3°C), air speed (0.2-0.5m/s) and relative humidity (75-85%) under which the meat is held for the duration of the ageing process. The process requires meat with evenly distributed external fat content to minimise muscle waste. Primals (large bone in distinct sections produce less waste) such as shortloins, rib eyes and rumps are placed in the dry ageing cabinet, ensuring adequate air flow around the meat cuts. These cuts can be dry-aged on racks, through hanging or within a moisture-permeable drybag. For best results use fresh meat rather than vacuum packaged meat.
Cooking Dry Aged Meat
It is important not to overcook dry aged steak because you have taken most of the moisture out of the muscle during the ageing process. To really enjoy the complexity of flavours and tenderness of dry aged beef after you have gone to all that effort, simply cook it over charcoal or a wood grill (or use a pan if you have to) and serve it with a little olive oil, sea salt, lemon and some fresh vegetables.
Wet aged meat is meat that has been stored in vacuum packaging for a period of time to flavour and tenderise the meat. Ageing commences from the date of packaging, the optimum time for wet aged meat is approximately 60 days, provided the cold chain is not broken and packaging has not been compromised (packaged date is on the carton end panel only). As the meat sits in the vacuum bag, enzymes inside the meat work to break down the connective tissues inside the muscle increasing the tenderness of the meat. As the meat ages, tenderness will increase and create more moisture inside the vacuum bag, this is normal. The meat will also appear to be a deep cherry red colour and have a confinement odour upon opening, the meat should brighten as the oxygen gets to it and the odour should dissipate within a few minutes. Bone in wet aged meat does not age for as long as boneless wet aged meat, the bones have air trapped inside and tend to spoil earlier.