All beef needs to be aged to allow the natural enzymatic process to tenderize the meat. There are 2 ways to do it: dry aging and wet aging.
So what’s the difference?
Before the 1970’s, all beef was dry aged. It was the advent of vacuum-sealed plastic bags that made wet aging possible.
Wet aging involves cutting beef into steaks very shortly after slaughter, and vacuum packaging the individual pieces into plastic bags. The meat then sits in its own blood for the duration of the aging process.
Full enzymatic tenderization takes about 28 days to complete. But if you wet age beef for more than 21 days, there is an increased risk of the meat developing a metallic flavor. As a result, the industry only ages beef with the wet aging method for 7 to 14 days.
By comparison, dry aging involves letting the beef hang in a refrigerated cold room at very precisely-controlled temperature, humidity, and air flow. The enzymes do their job just like the wet aging process, and you can age the full 28 days (and beyond) without risk of developing metallic flavors.
But the important difference is that the meat begins to lose moisture. The longer it ages, the more moisture it loses.
The result is similar to that of reducing a broth down into a demi-glace sauce or a gravy. As you drive the moisture out, the flavors become more concentrated.
And this is the magic of dry aging. You not only tenderize the meat, but you also enhance the flavor … similar to the benefits achieved by aging wine in a cellar or cheese in a cave. We’ve chosen to dry age our beef for 45 days. This allows time for the full enzymatic tenderization process, plus a perfect amount of moisture loss to enhance flavor.
So why is 98% of all beef wet aged instead of dry aged?
Wet aging offers a couple of logistical and cost advantages to the big beef industry. For one, wet aged meat doesn’t lose moisture (weight). So, at a given price per pound, beef companies will get paid more money (fatter profit) from wet aging than with dry aging.
Also, wet aged beef can be boxed immediately and shipped to grocery stores and other retail outlets, where it is stored in their refrigerator for the aging period. In other words, the expensive costs of keeping the meat refrigerated can be passed on to grocery stores and retail sellers.
That may make good business sense, but it doesn’t make a better steak.
Here at Hacienda Sur, we’ve invested an enormous amount of time and effort to breed and raise our cattle to their full potential. We’re not going to stop there and cut corners with the aging process in an attempt to make an extra bit of profit. Instead, we continue the concept of craftsmanship throughout the aging process, to produce the absolute best-tasting steak we possibly can.
We designed our own dry-aging facility to combine the ancient traditional methods of aging with some of the newest, cutting-edge technologies. First, the dry-aging room and accompanying freezer are solar powered. It also incorporates 2 different sanitation technologies: an ozone generator and a hydroxyl generator.
Both ozone and hydroxyls are unstable molecules that want to attach to other compounds, in a process called oxidation. When they attach themselves to bacteria or mold, it physically ruptures the cell membrane and kills the unwanted micro organism.
This process only takes place in the ambient air and on the superficial surfaces of the walls, floors, and beef carcasses. The ozone does not penetrate the beef and does not affect its flavor. Shortly after a sanitation treatment, all the ozone and hydroxyl molecules degrade into pure oxygen and water. There are no toxic residues like with other types of sanitizers. And because the oxidation process is physical, bacteria cannot develop an immunity to ozone.
Interestingly, when we contacted 3 of the big industrial refrigeration companies in Costa Rica to build our dry-aging facility, 2 looked at our design specifications and said they did not have the capabilities to build it.
The third company wanted to try, but was concerned that they could not meet our requirement for no more than 1 degree variation in temperature. They explained that every time the door was opened, the temperature would rise a few degrees.
So we changed the design to incorporate a sort of temperature air lock. The dry-aging room does not have a door to the outside. To get into the dry-aging room, you must first enter an adjoining cold room. Once the temperature in this first room has stabilized in the desired range, there is an interior door that can be opened into the dry-aging room.
Finally, the entire system includes a data logger, wireless alarms, and an automatic propane back-up generator for emergencies.
We are very proud of our dry-aging facility. It’s probably the only one in the world with this combination of design features and specifications. And we wouldn’t trust our beef to anything less.