Aged to Perfection

From farm to fork, how beef is handled affects the flavour and complexity of the meat, leading more Edmonton chefs to embrace the process of dry aging.

We live in a province known for its rich beef history. How many of us are aware of how the process of getting beef from the farm to your plate has changed drastically since the Second World War? In particular, the practice of dry aging beef, or allowing meat to naturally lose excess moisture and gain better texture. It’s a universal tradition that dates back to when hunting first evolved but has almost disappeared from our landscape. Modern food science has sped up the process of getting meat to market to the point where, often, the quality is compromised.  

More of us are questioning the industrial or intensive approach to agriculture that produces the majority of the beef that’s available to consumers. We’re seeking out small producers who not only raise their animals, but have a say in how their beef is processed and handled.

Shannon and Danny Ruzicka of Nature’s Green Acres in Viking raise and finish their cattle on pasture. “We prefer to use a meat processor that can properly dry age our meat,” says Shannon Ruzicka. “Our animals are processed at Sangudo Custom Meats, a small meat processor in Sangudo, Alberta, that prefers to dry age beef rather than wet age their cuts.”

Why is dry aging or hanging meat something that the industrial food sector can no longer be bothered with?  The answer is simple – dry aging, or hanging beef to age, means that the product is in inventory from anywhere from seven to 30 days or longer, while wet aging gets the product to market in a couple of days.

“Dry aging is a tradition that allows the natural enzymes in the meat to make it tender and more flavourful,” says Jeff Senger, owner of Sangudo Custom Meats. “Wet aged beef is not really aged at all. The meat is basically cut and packaged in plastic within one to two days of it being slaughtered and has at least 20 per cent more water than dry aged beef. The consumer ends up payving for that water weight.”

In wet aging, the meat is sealed in plastic and in its own blood. It isn’t allowed to breathe. And that speeds up ther aging process.

Edmonton chef Chad Moss teaches a butchery course at Shovel and Fork and says most people have become disconnected from the process of dry aging. “The quality from dry aging is more complex and more dynamic than meat that is wet aged.” The same words are touted by Three Boars Eatery chef, Brayden Kozak. “Our beef is from Sangudo and without a doubt, aging adds a special characteristic of flavour and tenderness that can’t be found in meat that isn’t dry aged.”

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