Why dry aged beef?

Turns out that the modern food industry found yet another short cut ... 'Wet aging'. I always assumed that the beef we see in supermarkets was still hung in a cooler for the appropriate amount of time to let the flavors develop and add tenderness. Apparently I've been wrong for a very long time.

Up until about thirty years ago all beef was hung for one to three weeks in a cooler. This process allows water to evaporate to intensify the flavor and tenderize the meat. The problem is that this ties up capital in inventory and also leads to a loss of weight (up to 1/3, which of course means the consumer is paying 1/3 more for water). So, in the name of economic efficiency, most beef is now 'wet aged'. Wet aging involves storing the beef in a sealed plastic bag for a few days. It does tenderize it, but does not allow the full flavors to develop. (Apparently dry aged beef is still available in high end steak houses, not just through small farms and local abbatoirs)

Up until last year we butchered at home, without the benefit of a cooler. This meant that the butcher had to be timed to line up with a spell of weather with temperatures just above freezing. Of course this never really worked out, and the most it would end up hanging would be 4 or five days before it either froze or got too warm.

Last year we switched to having the cows butchered and processed at Fergusons' Abbatoir in Pictou, where they are hung for up to 21 days. Harold (the beef whisperer) watches every carcass, and does not cut it until it has been aged the right amount. The difference in taste between the beef now and what it was two years ago is astounding. The lesson for me is that you can raise the best beef in the world, but if it is not handled and cut properly it was all for not. 


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