ageing & maturation
Ageing is an important part of the meat production process as it ensures that the meat is soft, tender and tasty.
All meat benefits from ageing and whether you know it or not, most beef that you consume has been aged for a certain period of time. Once the animal has been slaughtered, the enzymes in the meat break down the muscle tissue making the beef more tender. Ageing also affects the flavour of the meat, giving a stronger, less ‘gamey’ taste.
the old school form of maturation
It involves hanging large cuts (halves, quarters or primal cuts) in the open at a temperature just above freezing for a number of weeks. Besides the enzymes that are at work, the process dehydrates the meat which changes the taste and texture of it.
Dry-ageing is sometimes the preferred method of ageing as the meat can be aged for a much longer time than wet-ageing (in excess of 90 days). It results in very tender meat that has a stronger, almost roasted flavour, though it is an acquired taste. It is also the more expensive way of maturing meat as there is a drastic loss of volume and weight, due to the elimination of moisture as well as the fact that large amounts of the cut need to be trimmed away.
the most common form of maturation
Wet-ageing or maturing, is a much newer method of maturing meat which is far more commonplace in South Africa. It also affects the meat differently to dry-ageing. In this method, the beef is cut into smaller portions or whole primal cuts and is vacuum-sealed in plastic packaging. It will either be matured at the butchery or arrive at the stores in this way and will age in the time between slaughter and sale.
It’s important to note that after 21 days the benefits of this method in tenderising the meat stop - that is due to the bacteria present dying by this stage. So there is no need to pay a higher price for meat that claims to be wet-aged/matured past 21 days. Typically in South Africa, most wet-aged meat is matured between 14 – 21 days.