The process of simply “hanging meat” is now referred to as Dry-aged beef production. After slaughtering, the meat is first allowed to hang free in the air, at well regulated, low temperatures around freezing point. The process allows the moisture to escape and allows the vital enzymes to do their magic slowly. The end product is a delicate, flavor-packed dry-aged meat that is widely known not just among steak connoisseurs, but in the entire food industry.
The dry-aging process has two drawbacks; it takes a lot of time and reduces the volume of the meat up to 30%. Nowadays, refrigerators equipped with top-notch technology are used for the process, reducing the volume-loss to just 7-8%. Back in the days, the use of vacuum machines and heavy volume loss compelled the manufacturers to switch to wet aging in bags. The method is more reliable, faster, and less expensive. With the progression of the slow-food movement in the 21st century, this process has been rediscovered and used worldwide.
The process of dry-aging is mainly performed to enhance the flavor and quality of the meat. To achieve a good result, the product must be employed in dry-aged beef production. Professional chefs and butchers prefer cattle breeds that grow at a slower pace. The slow growth of muscle and flesh gives a brilliant marbled-effect to the meat. The process is crucial to extract the maximum flavor. The beef should preferably come from the heifer, a younger, female cow that has not been calved but is already fully grown in size.
Today, with the advent of technology, butcher's trade has become more comfortable as the conditions have become better. One of the significant concerns in earlier days was the temperature, which no longer arises due to technological advances. Unfavorable temperature fluctuations caused rotting of the bone marrow, resulting in a spoilt piece of meat. Today, the high-tech industrial chambers maintain a temperature that ranges from one to three degrees Celsius, and humidity is also carefully controlled. Additionally, by providing optimal ventilation, the tender and juicy meat are transformed into delicious dry-aged beef after 21-42 days of drying. The meat forms a dark crust when it is hung, under which tender and soft muscular meat develop. The crust is entirely dark and hard, and harmless mold can also form on the surface. If the meat ifs left long enough to dry, the crust automatically separates from the meat. The juices evaporate and leave behind a tender, delicious, dark meat with flavor profiles of butter and nut that makes the beef truly enjoyable and savored.
Black Angus cattle are widely recognizable due to its jet-black fur, a small bump, and the hornless head. Angus is the most commonly used range because the animals are premature, grow faster, and guarantee amazingly delicious meat. They also cooperate well with fodder species and are mainly reared in the USA, Ireland, and Argentina.
The Hereford cattle are bred in England, Great Britain. The Hereford became a widely accepted and recognized meat range due to the unpretentious attitude and adaptability to climatic changes. It is one of the world's most famous cattle breeds being reared in Australia, North and South America, mainly Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, New Zealand, and South Africa.
Charolais is a French breed known for its exceptional meat quality as the breeders have always distinguished between milk and meat breeds, and "Charolais" in particular was cultivated for meat production. The meat is different as it is particularly lean and has intramuscular fat deposits.
Japan is the home to the widely famous Wagyu cattle. Since ages, the breeding of Wagyu cattle has been handled by the Japanese. Even today, the country aces the rearing and slaughter of domestic cattle. Wagyu cattle are bred in extremely small groups, and the breeders specializing in the traditional Kobe meat may even hold 34 animals maximum at a point.
When the metabolism of an animal wanes, a deficiency of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, is observed in the muscles. Without ATP, the muscle proteins remain rigid. After a little time, glycogen, a carbohydrate compound is released, which is also regarded as an energy reserve. The compound is then converted into lactic acid with the help of oxygen. This process activates the protease enzymes, which then ultimately break down the rigid proteins.
This process produces soft and muscular meat. The process is typical in both dry-aged beef production and wet aging in a vacuum as well. However, in cases of vacuum bags, the meat juice is unable to evaporate, and it also contains lactic acid bacteria that gives the meat a slightly metallic taste. On the other hand, the meat juices evaporate during dry-aged beef production, ensuring the salt and fat proteins that enhance the flavor remain intact.
Dry-aged beef production is a costly process due to reduced yields, higher weight, trimmed loss, and time-consuming processing as compared to the wet aging. Also, for the aging to actually enhance the quality of the meat, it should contain a visible marbling effect. Only the best and highest quality meat cuts are able to live up to those standards and make aging worthwhile.
According to the data gathered by Straits Research, the retail prices of dry-aged steaks should be up to 20% higher to return the net sales value and margin as obtained from the wet-aged meat, as dry-aged meat costly about 25% more than wet-aged beef. Previous research has also shown that primal cuts that are left to dehydrate slowly and to lose water during the process concentrate the flavor but even lose 5-25% of its initial weight. This is a significant reason that high-quality products cost more than the non-dry aged products. However, the tedious process rewards the producer with tender and truly naturally flavored beef.
Dry aging is a costly affair due to aging conditions and special requirements to achieve the desired results. To be counted as unique flavored and value-added beef, the meat should reflect necessary marbling. There is a niche market of customers and connoisseurs who are willing to pay high amounts for the product. By contrast, there is no much accessible information related to the aging parameters and palatability of the beef. The area of research is less explored, and many questions are still unanswered.
By taking the high demands of dry-aged beef into account, studies focused on this process need to be conducted as the regulations, guidelines, and recommendations on the aging methods and conditions will help producers and retailers to produce better quality dry-aged beef.