The art of dry ageing
Dry ageing is a process that’s old as the hills. It involves maturing meat in a specific way until a blackened crust forms on the outside – don’t worry; this bit’s cut off before we cut the steaks or roasts! Dry ageing makes a huge improvement to both the flavour and the texture of meat – but there’s an art to it...
What is dry ageing?
Dry ageing is simply the act of ‘hanging’ meat to mature. It’s been done ever since early people realised that matured meat was much nicer to eat! It must be done in specially controlled conditions, otherwise the meat will simply go off. Different cuts are aged for different lengths of time, and it takes an experienced butcher to know exactly when a cut of meat has been aged to perfection.
How do we do it?
Our prime cuts of meat sit in a special area known as ‘the chill’. The biggest bits are hung on hooks, and the smaller cuts are carefully spaced out on large racks, so that air can circulate around them. The temperature, airflow and humidity are all controlled to miniscule amounts – it’s quite a scientific process! Our Butchers go in and turn the meat every day, to help it mature evenly. When they judge it to be at exactly the right point of maturation, they cut it and professionally freeze it, so you know that when you serve it at home, it will be just right.
Why do we do it?
Two main things happen during dry ageing. Firstly, moisture evaporates, which shrinks the meat and concentrates the flavour. Secondly, natural enzymes and harmless airborne microbes get to work and actually break down the muscle structure of the meat, making it much more tender and giving a beautifully rounded depth to the flavour.
These also give the famous black crust, which is then cut off.
Frequently asked questions...
You would think so, wouldn’t you? But believe it or not, if you tried to cook and eat a piece of beef that hadn’t been matured at all, it would be so tough and rubbery you’d hardly be able to chew it. It wouldn’t taste of very much, either!
Fresh meat is bright red and springy to the touch. Dry aged meat is darker – more of a gentle maroon – and might be darker yet towards the edges. It might also be slightly mottled, and has a firmer texture than fresh meat. All of this is completely natural and is the sign of a steak that will eat beautifully!
The optimum maturation time depends on the cut. Naturally tender cuts like fillet (which is an underused muscle) need less time to mature, because the enzymes have less work to do in tenderising the meat. Our fillet is dry aged for 21 days, our sirloin for 28 days, and our rump and ribeye for at least 35 days. These are guidelines only – our Butchers know how to judge the exact point a cut is at its best by eye and feel, and we’ll always go with our Butchers’ expertise rather than an arbitrary time. We mature our meat for longer than most of the meat you’d buy elsewhere, but we know it’s worth the extra effort and expense.
Dry ageing is an expensive process. You’ve got to set aside a special area, for starters, and this has to be kept in very strict conditions, 24 hours a day. Refrigeration, fans for air circulation, humidity regulation – these all add up. Plus there’s the Butcher’s time, every day, examining and turning the meat. You’ve got to account for the amount of weight lost to shrinkage as moisture evaporates – this can be up to 5 or 10% of the final product weight. And lastly, you’ve got to cut off the blackened crust and throw it away. Not much wonder it’s pricey!
Sorry, but you really can’t. It needs very specific conditions that have to be regulated and checked, 24 hours a day. Ours have been worked out to the most miniscule of degrees, and our Butchers are very secretive about the actual process! Trying to replicate these conditions at home would be almost impossible and would certainly create a health risk. It’s definitely best to leave it to the experts.
Our big four dry aged steaks
Our dry aged veal