Dry Aging - The Basics
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Why Dry Age?
So, what happens when you dry-age meat? Well, first, during the initial 21-day process of dry aging, the collagen and connective tissue are broken down within the meat by enzymes that are naturally present in beef. The results of this process are similar to what happens when we cook a tough brisket or a pork butt all the way up to 190°; in that process, the collagen and connective tissues are broken down by heat. In this process, the enzymes are eating and breaking them down, so similar results but with totally different processes. Most of the tenderness is set in by 21 days; beyond that, flavor profiles might change, but you will not have increased tenderness.
Why Don’t People Dry Age That Often?
One of the reasons that very few people dry age their beef is because, as you dry age, you are going to lose as much as 25% of your product, obviously it could be higher; in fact, you could lose 100% of it if things go really wrong. For someone doing this at home once in a while, that might not be a large concern, but for a commercial processor, this is going to increase costs per lb significantly. Another reason is that you cannot take a 2-inch thick steak and dry age it; you need a large subprimal cut like a strip loin or ribeye, which is going to be fairly expensive. As the drying continues, the outside is going to “spoil” as most of the moisture is drawn out from the meat and evaporates off; this process intensifies the flavor of the meat but does account for a decent amount of the product loss. The trimming is why larger subprimal cuts are necessary for dry aging.
Dry Aging Sausage Is More Difficult
In this process, we are going to rely on a pH drop and then the good bacteria to outcompete the bad bacteria to prevent anything harmful from growing on the meat. This is why it really is critical to have a place where you can reliably control both the temperature and the humidity. I know that some people have done it forever in their basement during a certain month of the year or other, but this isn’t a process we recommend. A drying cabinet of some sort that is easily sterilized before and after use is important.
You will have to have a way to reliably measure the pH of your sausage to be able to make sure this process has been successful as well. Different starter cultures have different requirements, but an example of one would be for Spanish Chorizo, where we are using Bactoferms T-SPX. We are going to ferment it at 75°F with 90% relative humidity for 36-48 hours or as soon as we see the pH falling below 5.2. After that, we are going to dry it until the Water Activity is below .85, which can take weeks.
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