By Mario Fiorucci, Co-Founder of The Healthy Butcher
It’s time to dispel some misunderstandings about what “aged meat” is and is not. To do this, let’s simply group all meat available for purchase into three categories:
(1) not aged;
(2) Wet Aged; and
(3) Dry Aged.
We’ll start with the latter since it is, in my opinion, the most important.
Dry Ageing is the process of hanging meat, usually the whole carcass or large portions as depicted in the photograph, in a temperature and humidity controlled environment for a period of time. During this hanging time, two important processes are at work. First, the natural enzymes begin to break down the fibres of the muscle, and in turn tenderize the meat. Second, the water or moisture in the meat evaporates – which is why we refer to the process as “dry ageing”. The loss of water will have the effect of concentrating the flavour of the meat; upwards of 20% of weight can be lost during dry ageing which adds to the final price tag. Paradoxically, the loss of water actually makes for moister meat when cooked. When wet meat, or meat that is not dry aged, is cooked the water in the meat expands as the temperature rises during cooking, thereby stretching the fibres of the meat and leaching out between them. Further, if you plan on freezing your meat then it is wise to only freeze dry aged meat – less water in the meat means less frost bite. Up until the 1960s, dry ageing meat was the standard. Of course, there is a huge cost to dry ageing – both because there is a significant loss of weight (and meat is sold by weight) and cost of storing the meat in refrigerated environments.