Could you handle a steak from a 17 year old dairy cow? Find out more here in our blog on extreme ageing and aged cattle
Many moons ago, when this writer was wet behind the ears as a novice cook in London, the beauty of well-aged beef was revealed. Long before the time when dry ageing meat was considered a ‘specialist’ skill. Back then, hanging beef on the bone in the traditional manner was just how it was always done, by butchers who knew their craft. It was a method taken for granted by the home cooks and chefs of the time, who didn’t know anything different.
One particular abiding memory of learning to cook professionally involves making supper before evening service for the extremely talented German Executive Head Chef who ruled the kitchen. The first time this privilege was bestowed upon the lowly apprentice, the apprehensive commis looked on as the experienced teacher perused the meat fridge, looking for the darkest coloured piece of striploin steak he could find. The piece an untrained eye may think was ready for the bin.
‘Why do you want that one, Chef?’, was the naive question asked. A raised eyebrow, a cocked head, with wise face and smiling eyes, and a reply which remains embedded in my mind to this day. ‘Because, my dear, this is the piece which will be the most tender. Look at the marbled yellowing fat and deep red brown colour. This steak will be like butter in the mouth.’ And so it was.
WHY DRY AGE?
‘Wet ageing’ in vacuum packs has become a time and space saving norm for supermarket ‘in-store’ butchers and large meat processing houses. Not only does this eradicate proper butchery skills, it’s also ruining the eating experience. Hanging beef on the bone is a traditional and essential method of ensuring well developed flavour and tenderness. Beef needs to be aged in order to be palatable. It might look great as a bright red piece of meat or juicy steak. But it won’t be tender if it’s too fresh.
To dry age, carcasses of beef hang from hooks in a refrigerated environment in their entirety, or in sides. This allows the moisture to come out and the enzymes in the meat to break down and tenderise the flesh.
As it ages, the bright red sheen of young meat will be lost in favour of a mature deep red brown hue. The fat will become a golden creamy yellow. The flesh will give generously when poked with a finger, which are all very good signs. As a general rule, beef needs to be dry aged on the bone for at least 21 days. Today however, a new trend is emerging among meat lovers. Extreme ageing is the word on the street.
Dry ageing from 28 days to many weeks is made possible by controlled temperature environments, and even Himalayan salt lined ageing chambers, which have scientifically finely balanced air, so the beef ages but doesn’t rot. An interesting article on the Foodism website last year featured Richard H. Turner of Turner & George traditional butchers in London, said he believed beef ‘showed best’ at between five and six weeks ageing.
AGED BEEF AND AGED CATTLE
According to the Foodism article, some butchers and restaurants in the UK capital and beyond are now combining extreme ageing techniques with using aged animals. For example, Galician grass fed dairy cows which have given years of milking service are now being put to good use at the table in one establishment, dry aged to become meltingly tender, and in demand from those in the know on the London food scene. That has not happened here in Ireland, as far as we know! Maybe we can set the trend now for any willing entrepreneurs.
GOOD FOOD IRELAND BUTCHERS
Butchers in the Good Food Ireland network practice the traditional skill of dry ageing. Several have their own abattoirs and own beef herds, which guarantees quality from farm to fork. Michael O’Neill, who has his own butcher’s shop and abattoir in Clonakilty, West Cork, sources Black Angus beef from a herd in nearby Inchydoney and typically slaughters at between 18-24 months of age, in accordance with requirements for small abattoirs.
He dry ages his beef for between 21 and 28 days. However, for specific requirements, he can age longer. Michael supplies Dexter beef from a West Cork Herd to Richy Verahsawmy of Richy’s Restaurant and R Cafe in the town. This beef is typically dry aged for six weeks, and sometimes seven weeks, to become succulent and flavoursome. Beautiful ribeye steaks are melt-in-the-mouth and full of intense beefy taste. A pure delight.
Also in the specialist beef arena, Irish Piedmontese Beef is an Italian breed reared on Irish soil by one of our producers. Dry aged and extremely tender, as well as being lower in fat than typical Irish beef breeds. One for those who love their steak but don’t want the calories and cholesterol that goes with it!
Check out our list of butchers who practice the proper craft of butchery, using local meats and dry ageing methods. Here you will find some of the best beef in the land. And you’ll thank us for it.
M.J.O’Neill Clonakilty, specialising in local beef from Inchydoney on the Wild Atlantic Way and West Cork Dexter beef
Michael McGrath – own beef and own abattoir in Lismore
Sean Kelly of Kelly’s of Newport – own prime beef and abattoir
McCarthy’s of Kanturk – sources local beef and hangs it in the traditional way
The Market Butcher – supplies the public and catering industry from own shop with meat production house next door and stocks beef from Lambay Island off the Dublin coast
Martin Divilly – third generation Galway family butcher, stocking beef traceable from farm to fork and some organic meats