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Beef is “Dry Aged” to enhance the flavour and texture of the meat cuts; this has become a huge trend within the food service market globally. The consumer is driving this trend as they seek more flavourful and tender cuts along with the demands of today’s restaurant industry to stand out within their markets and offer a premium product to their demanding clients.

Today, there are two forms of ageing: wet ageing in which beef cuts are deboned and stored in vacuum pack and dry ageing in which beef bone in loins are stored without any type of protective packaging in refrigerated conditions.

Dry and wet ageing beef results in both flavour development and more tender meat this of course is science fact with numerous studies having taken place around the world but, are both very different in taste and texture. (Warren and Kastner, 1992; Miller et al., 1997; Campbell et al., 2001).

For centuries, dry ageing was a common way for butchers to preserve and tenderise beef. When I was working as an apprentice butcher in Ireland in 1987 I was first introduced to “hanging meat.” Needless to say, my Master Butcher, to whom I was apprenticed, could not verbalise the Science facts as I know them today but he certainly gave me a hunger to find out more.

Dry ageing is a costly endeavour due to temperature control, relative humidity, and air-flow needed for the art of dry ageing to occur. This process needs to be perfect in all aspects to prevent the beef from spoiling or becoming rancid.

In my 30 years’ experience, selecting the right beef with a maximum 6 days from the date of slaughter for dry ageing is the most optimum. The reason is the beef is at its prime of freshness and microbiological standard.

Beef loins must be evenly distributed to ensure proper drying, stacked on shelves is not a great way to do this as air cannot circulate around the beef. This is not the case for wet aged vacuum product; this can be stacked in cartons until it is needed. In my opinion there is no perfect time for the ageing period; it’s purely a matter of taste and time along with cost. Let me explain; after 14 days the tenderisation period of both Dry Aged and Wet Aged is the same, in other words the tenderness time and enzymatic process of tissue breakdown is equal. What is different is the taste profile in that dry aged beef; moisture is evaporating concentrating the flavour profile and changing the chemical composition of the fat. This moisture loss increases the texture mouth feel and the fat flavour change gives that distinct “beefiness” the most common comment is “this beef tastes like beef used to taste”.

Wet aged beef tends to have an acidic metallic taste from the product that has come from the bag after a number of weeks; this is due to the myoglobin in the cell walls and structure of the meat. The natural mineral Heme is found in the meat cell walls and as the meat sits for a number of weeks breaking down, the juices impart this flavour. Myoglobin is the Heme iron containing protein that gives meat its colour.

Dry ageing beef can incur losses of as much as 20% due to the loss of moisture and the loss of the outer crust which needs to be trimmed off. This makes this type of beef very costly to produce and of course for the restaurant to purchase.

I prefer 21 days of ageing to a maximum of 28 for Grass fed beef. Anything above this adds more cost and expense plus less shelf life of the finished product. Also by ageing longer you actually change the flavour to an almost cheesy, musty, wet cardboard, mouldy taste which to be honest I prefer my cheese to taste like this not my steak.

The other trend which I see is restaurants adding “dry age” fridges and ageing on site. This is highly dangerous in my opinion as the operators have little experience and knowledge to carry out such a delicate balance. These fridges are expensive and to be honest most of them should just about keep cans of soda cold.

The most common mistake is taking some beef that has been vacuumed for 4 weeks or more, removing from the bag and hanging in the so called “dry ageing fridge” until it goes black. This is not ageing beef it is oxidising beef. This beef will be sour, acidic and taste terrible and will not give the true taste of dry aged beef. I have eaten this type of aged beef all over the world and it’s terrible when I comment I am told that’s what aged beef tastes like, wrong!

The other “trend” we see is salt ageing, this can be Purple Peruvian, Pink Himalayan, and Salt Moss. The concept behind these is that the salt wall acts like a hygroscopic in that it attracts water molecules. The theory is also that the salt in the atmosphere and room adds to the ageing profile as it tends to keep bacteria levels down due to the absorption of the water molecules as water and humidity are the main factors for bacteria growth in the process of dry ageing. Some people believe the salt adds to the flavour albeit no scientific evidence of increased salt mineralogy in nutrition tests we have done has shown this.

The other side effect of this ageing is the corrosive nature of salt to the infrastructure of both the metal and steel in the room which can rust very quickly if not kept in check.

In essence we have being dry ageing at John Stone for over 50 years and have mastered the art in this process without the need for gimmicks other than traditional methods embracing technology in the form of the control and mapping of our process.



To find out more call +353 906 432 403 or email info@johnstonebeef.com

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Rathmore, Ballymahon, Co.Longford, Ireland N39 T3C3

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