Age is More Than a Number
Almost all beef that come to our plates have been aged in some way or other. This is because freshly slaughtered beef is stringy and tough, and a bit of ageing—when its own natural enzymes break down the meat’s connective tissue—tenderises the meat. At its most simplistic, meat packaged in large vacuum-sealed bags and in styrofoam trays wrapped in cling film have been wet-aged.
Connoisseurs however swear by dry-aged beef. Firstly, only high grades of meat can be dry-aged, as it requires large amounts of evenly distributed fat. Left in a dry-ageing cupboard, the beef loses moisture through evaporation, which in turn concentrates its flavour. Like wet-ageing, the enzymes get to work, making the meat more tender. The process takes 15 to 28 days, during which a crust of fungus develops on the exterior that, gastronomes say, enhances the flavour too. When ready to use, this crust has to be sliced away. Coupled with weight lost in the evaporation, dry-aged meat tends to be more expensive.