Ageing in meat production
Flavour increases during ageing and there is an argument that “dry ageing” results in better flavour than “wet ageing” but there is no strong consensus. Wet ageing is widely used in commercial beef production in England. This involves storage of the meat at chill temperatures (less than 3ºC) in vacuum packs, usually for 7 to 21 days.
Prior to the development of vacuum packaging, meat was dry-aged. Dry aging consists of placing unpackaged meat in a chill under controlled temperature, humidity and airflow. There is increasing interest in the use of dry ageing to produce a premium product because the beef flavour, in particular, is reputed to be superior to that of wet-aged beef. A comprehensive summary of the effects of dry ageing beef has been published by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
The main disadvantage of dry ageing is the weight loss, as a result of two main factors: evaporative loss resulting in reduced water content of the meat (considered an important component of the improved quality) and discolouration/desiccation of externally exposed muscle resulting in the necessity of trimming. Dry ageing is widely used in the US and there is interest in reducing the associated weight loss. There is clearly potential to gain the perceived quality advantages of dry-aged beef with reduced cost (through reduced weight loss). Ageing mutton to 14 days post-slaughter produced more tender meat than that aged 7 days, but low or high voltage electrical stimulation will improve mutton tenderness over non-stimulated controls, particularly if only aged for 7 days before consumption. Aging for a further 7 days will confer extra advantage. Hip suspension does not appear to have any benefit for mutton loin muscle tenderisation.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Center for Research and Knowledge Management, 2008, Executive Summary: Dry Ageing of beef, Centennial, USA