Dry Aged Meat
Dry ageing uses the natural process of decay to enhance the flavour and texture of the meat. We take a look at the science behind the process.
Dry aged meat and why the process of decay makes for good eating.
First of all, a quick look at the science.
After the slaughter of an animal, rigor mortis sets in very quickly. During rigor mortis the major muscles in the carcasse are contracting. The proteins, actin and myosin bond to each other. This is where the important process of ageing the meat is important.
Enzymes present in the muscles that were important during life begin to work on the proteins to break them down. This helps to stop the contraction of the muscle fibres. The process is known as proteolysis. The two heroes of this process are two types of enzymes, calpains and cathepsins.
Over time these enzymes break down enough of the muscle fibres to reverse the effects of rigor mortis and relax the contracted muscles. This results in the meat becoming tenderised, making for a more pleasant eating experience. The cathepsins disrupt cross links and fibres within the connective tissue of the muscle making collagen that becomes gelatin during cooking to produce more succulent texture.
The chemical changes in the proteins during this process increase the intensity of flavours and aromas, giving aged meat a distinctive flavour. The longer that meat is aged under the right conditions the more tender and flavourful it becomes. Temperature and humidity are both key elements of the process. If the temperature is too high the process will speed up, but there will be a risk of contamination from bacteria. If the temperature is too low the process will slow down completely and become ineffective. The ideal temperature is around 2-3℃ with a humidity of 70-80%.
Our process involves the addition of Himalayan rock salt to the maturation room. The salt has the effect of withdrawing moisture from the air along with an element of reducing bacteria.
Most beef can benefit from ageing for 28 days with ribs and loins being aged for several weeks. There doesn’t seem to be much improvement in texture and tenderness after the first 28 days, but beyond this there are still changes in the flavour profile. As you would expect there is quite some moisture loss during the process and this helps to intensify the flavour. A good fat covering on the meat is essential to the process as this helps to protect the meat and also slows down the moisture loss. The native breeds we select for Grid Iron are particularly well suited to dry ageing as they have natural fat covering and marbling in the meat. Because they have taken longer to mature, these breeds also have a more intense flavour to begin with.
The same applies to pork. All our pork is aged for at least 7 days and we select some of our pork to set aside for longer ageing with 21 days being a typical period. Again, with pork, the fat covering is essential to protect the meat.
For our SteakHolder Club we often set aside specific breeds for ageing. Some of our members reserve a primal cut such as a fore rib of beef or loin and specify how long they would like it ageing for and how they would like their final cuts preparing.