Beef Aging

Authored By Meat Co.

DRY AGED BEEF

What goes into making high-quality dry-aged beef?

 

A dry aged bone-in ribeye from our dry aged room.

In our article today we will be covering everything to do with the dry ageing process. The science behind the scenes, how it translates into that unique addictive dry aged flavour we all crave, and why dry aged beef commands a higher price than your regular steak off the shelf.

 

 

THE FOUR KEY COMPONENTS TO DRY AGEING

TIME

It goes without saying, the number of days beef gets dry aged has a direct effect on the taste profile and mouth feel of dry aged beef. During the whole dry ageing process there are three strains of mould that are known to assist in the dry age process, ThamnidiumPenicillium camemberti and Debaryomyces hanseii. If the dry ageing period is too short, there is not enough time for these moulds to have any effect. Studies have shown that a minimum of 14 days is required before for them to have any effect at all, any less and the effect is negligible (we will discuss the function of these moulds in further detail below).

 TEMPERATURE

Most butchers and restaurants find that the optimum temperature for dry ageing is the same for storing chilled beef, anywhere between 0°C and 4°C. At these temperatures, there is less risk of bacterial growth hence preventing the development of off odours and spoiling the beef altogether. Furthermore, it is important to ensure that the temperature of the dry ageing room or cabinet does not fluctuate as temperature instability will promote harmful bacteria growth that will not only lead to spoilage but deter the growth of beneficial mould required to have a successful dry age.

HUMIDITY

Another crucial factor in dry ageing is the relative humidity of the dry ageing environment. If the humidity is too high, bacteria that cause spoilage and off flavours will grow. While too low a humidity will help in preventing harmful bacteria growth, it will also promote greater evaporative weight loss. This means that the beef will dry out too fast and directly affect the juiciness of the beef in the end. The relative humidity sweet spot for dry ageing is between 70% and 85%.

AIR FLOW

Air flow is another important factor in dry ageing beef. Air flow keeps moisture off the surface of the muscle, encouraging more moisture to move from the centre of the meat towards the surface. Without proper airflow, the surface of the meat remains damp, retarding the aging process and encourages the growth of harmful bacteria. Hence, there must be proper air flow throughout the ageing room at all times. However excessive airflow is also harmful, by causing the meat to dry out too quickly, resulting in loss of yield and cracks on the surface.

 

These four key components to Dry Ageing must be controlled to ensure optimum yield, food safety and excellent eating quality at the end of the intended dry age period.

SO, WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS DURING DRY AGEING?

 

Improvements in Tenderness through Enzymatic Reaction

Contrary to popular belief, the impact of external factors is minimal during the dry ageing process. Rather the process largely occurs internally through enzymatic reactions within the beef. As the dry age process advances, these enzymes are allowed to work their magic, turning larger protein molecules into simpler, more flavourful fragments – proteins turn into savoury amino acids, glycogen turns into sweet glucose, and mature collagen links weaken.

Beneficial mould formed as a result of dry aging also assists in the Enzymic reaction process. One of these moulds mentioned earlier, Thamnidium, releases proteases that create collagenolytic enzymes. These enzymes attack supporting proteins that hold the structure of the muscle together, and the strong crosslinks between connective tissue fibres this further contributes to tenderness and flavour as well.

The weakening of these collagen cross links in meat also improves tenderness during the cooking process. When heat is applied, collagen now more readily dissolves into gelatine. Furthermore, the contracting effect that happens when heat is applied to meat is reduced, thus the beef retains more moisture during the cooking process.

 

Intensification of Flavour through Moisture loss

Since meat starts out with about 75% water, and water being flavourless, as the dry ageing process continues, moisture loss will lead to the intensification of the beef’s flavour. This gives rise to that oh so good dry aged taste profile that we all enjoy – an intense beefy flavour accompanied by nutty, buttery, and umami notes.

Therefore, the key benefits of Dry Aging come about from moisture loss and enzymatic reaction. In turn, these two processes are encouraged through careful control and monitoring of the four key components of dry aging. In short, through a combination of tweaking the temperature, humidity, airflow and time, one can control the extent of tenderisation and the intensity of the beefy flavour.

 

30 DAYS AND BEYOND

After 30 days, the enzymatic action stops and the tenderness of the beef does not benefit from further aging. However, flavour continues to intensify through moisture loss and the mould action on the surface. The gradual oxidation of external fat also contributes to the aroma of dry aged beef. If you have wondered why some dry aged beef has an aroma of cheese this is where our earlier mentioned strains of moulds – Penicillium camemberti and Debaryomyces hanseii – come into play. In fact, these moulds are used in commercial cheese production such as Camembert. These moulds exist as microscopic spores that are present in the air and soil. The dry ageing process encourages the growth of these moulds and control of the key components gives these moulds a conducive environment to thrive and grow on the surface of dry aged beef.

(Image source: https://food52.com/recipes/19281-camembert-cheese)

Camembert cheese. The fuzzy mould on the surface is Penicillium camemberti, this same mould is found on the surface of dry aged beef.

Beyond 60 days, surface mould, oxidation, and moisture loss further intensify the flavour until it reaches a point where dehydration of the meat sometimes makes for quite an unpleasant mouth feel after cooking. Furthermore, surface mould flavours become quite overpowering sometimes taking over the original taste of the beef itself.

WHAT ABOUT THE COST?

Now, you may ask why does a dry aged steak cost so much more than a normal one? We actually touched upon it earlier in the article. It all has to do with the moisture loss, which leads to weight loss during the dry ageing process.

In the table below, you will find indicative average weight losses in percentages for the number of days beef is dry aged, this weight loss varies depending on the cut that is dry aged and the variance in the four dry age components mentioned above.

*note the weight loss indicated in the table above is purely from moisture loss and does not take into consideration weight loss from trimming away dried crust, fat cap and bone.

 

As an example, imagine you paid for a 5KG piece of beef and proceed to dry age it for 30 days. When the ageing process is complete and with all that moisture loss you are left with 4.25KG of beef. Furthermore, during the dry ageing process, the surface of the beef develops an inedible crust. This crust will also have to be discarded and so you are left with even less beef.

 

At the end of the day, weight loss is only one of the reasons dry aged beef costs more, when you add in the cost of setting up dry ageing rooms – ensuring that all the other components, like temperature, humidity and airflow are monitored and controlled carefully with specialised equipment – it becomes clear why that dry aged steak costs quite a bit more.

 

WHAT CUTS ARE BEST TO DRY AGE?

All cuts of beef can actually be dry aged. However, it is more a question of would that particular cut of beef benefit from dry ageing as well.

Due to the weight loss during the dry ageing process and further trimming after, it is not actually viable to dry age a lot of them. What butchers and restaurants typically look for is a good protective covering of bone or fat. This will mean that there is less to be trimmed away after the dry ageing process has been completed. With that in mind, cuts that are favoured for dry ageing are bone-in cuts.

For example, the bones on a tomahawk or Prime Rib will prevent the drying out and crust formation on the underside of the Ribeye muscle. If the Rib Cap is left on – it again prevents the drying out of the Spinalis Dorsi, which is considered the most tender part of the ribeye. The effect of the rib cap – acts much like the rib bones – is a protective layer that is sacrificed in place of higher eating quality parts underneath. All of this works to improve the yield once the dry age process has run its course.

 

STEAK HOUSE EXPERIENCE AT HOME

 

 

A dry aged bone-in Ribeye, frenched, fat cap removed, excess fat trimmed, and ready for the oven.

Here at Meat Co. we hope to help you re-create that steak house experience at home. We specialize in bone-in cuts like Short loins, bone-in ribeyes and striploins that have been dry aged for a minimum of 30 days. Head on over here to get your hands on some delivered right to your doorstep! Check out our article on meat preparation and tempering here as well to help you achieve that Steak House finish on your dry aged steak too!

If 30 days does not really tickle your fancy and you would like a longer dry aged experience, do get in touch with us through WhatsApp, our meat specialists and butchers will be able to help you.



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