While us humans have been dry ageing meat for hundreds of years, wet ageing has only recently become possible due to the widespread emergence of plastic and vacuum-sealing processes. The primary purpose of ageing meat using the methods that we do is that the meat becomes much more tender, and therefore results in a texture that is far more palatable; the tenderness from the meat breaking down in your mouth also makes it easier to chew. All forms of meat will benefit from being aged in some regard before being eaten. Whether dry or wet aged, naturally occurring enzymes within the meat will break down the juicy connective tissues. These processes can vary drastically in the length of time taken, but if you read on we will discuss the differences inherent in both.
With dry ageing, primal cuts or whole sides of meat are left to hang up and age. The process is conducted in an environment with temperatures that are just above freezing, taking anywhere from weeks to months. This carefully constructed environment allows enzymes to break down the muscle tissue over time and dehydrates the meat. As a result, the meat is condensed and the flavour concentrated, altering the meat’s texture through a method reminiscent of the way cheese is fermented to achieve the same effect.
Because dry ageing causes the meat to lose some of its moisture, the meat achieves a richer, beefier flavour. Additionally, the longer that the meat is dry aged for, the more tender it will be (and the stronger the flavour). Very tender meat tends to produce an intense, unmatched flavour. While the cost per pound will be increased by the process producing a lower yield, dry ageing meat is the more traditional approach to consuming meat and has been practised by humans for many centuries.
Wet ageing is a fairly recent technique practised for meat consumption on a mass scale, evolving alongside advances in refrigeration and packaging methods. Shortly after an animal is slaughtered, the meat is cut and made into portions that are then vacuum sealed inside plastic. The ageing usually only takes about 4-10 days, and the air-tight packaging allows the meat inside to tenderise as the enzymes within the meat break down connective fibres and tissue.
With wet ageing, yields tend to be high and so the price per pound is usually lower. No moisture is lost in the process either, but many prefer the ‘meatier’ flavour of dry aged meat.
Large subprimal and muscle cuts on the bone massively benefit from dry ageing, since layers of bone and fat prevent these cuts from over-drying. Ribeye and sirloin steaks in particular are greatly improved in texture and flavour through dry ageing. Wet aged meat tends to be the more popular choice because supermarkets stock large quantities at low prices. However, dry ageing benefits from a nutty, roasted flavour, while wet aged meat can lack the depth of flavour and taste slightly metallic, which may be off-putting for some.
Martins Meats are an award-winning family butchers established in 2003 by husband and wife, Martin and Emma Gilder. Martin’s father and grandfather have been cattle farmers and dealers for many years. Take a look at our website www.martinsmeats.com to find out more about who we are and what we do.
We don’t enter into competitions for any glory (although it is nice to win and be recognised), but we do enter because we believe it is the perfect way of showcasing our passion for our industry. It’s also a great way to educate the public about how best practice and husbandry of animals leads directly to superior quality meat.
We go to great lengths to make sure that the farms we select our meat from, including our own, are of an exceptional standard before, during and after delivery of livestock. We are proud to state that this, combined with our understanding of meat and how to get the best from it, enables Martins Meats to recommend the best methods and recipes to maximise the flavour and tenderness of our meat and meat products.
Find out more about the individual awards here: Great Taste Awards | Taste of the West