What happens during the aging process?
By Bob Oros
What happens during the aging process is the connective tissue, a small fiber connecting the cells, breaks down and makes the meat less tough. It takes between 14 and 21 days for this break down to occur depending on the age and texture of the meat. Without any aging the meat is extremely tough and has little flavor. Aging greatly enhances the flavor and adds to the tenderness.
The aging process starts immediately after the animal is butchered. Boxed beef is aging all the while it is in the box and the cyrovac packaging is an ideal environment. When the meat is aging in the cyrovac it is considered "wet aging" as it is not exposed to the air. Dry aging is a more complex process, especially if it is done correctly.
To dry age meat the carcass should be split into hind quarters and front quarters and allowed to hang in a humidity controlled cooler. After approximately three to four weeks, mold will begin to grow on the surface of the beef, which of course would be trimmed off when it is processed. This mold gives the meat a "musty" taste and if you are not used to it you might think something was wrong with the meat. You cannot properly dry age meat after it has been cut into the sub primals as too much of the meat will be exposed to the air and will have to be trimmed off at a considerable expense.
There are some restaurants and small processors who have worked out a system for dry aging sub primals, however, it is a very delicate process. If the cooler is not humidified the meat will shrink and dry out very quickly. If there are any other products, such as onions or fish, put in the cooler with the aging meat, the meat will absorb the odor. When comparing the two processes it makes little or no sense to dry age and is used more as a marketing tool rather than an actual quality enhancer.