The hanging of beef is a much discussed topic (at least in our family – sad I know) and it must be extremely confusing for consumers with beef being hung from anything from 2 days to 2 months and everything in between! I have heard people saying that it has to be hung for a minimum of 6 weeks and even then it is still too fresh whereas in France it is unlikely to be hung for more than 5 days. So how long should beef be hung for and what is the best way to mature beef.
How to Mature Beef
Second question first! There are two main methods to maturing beef, the first is dry ageing and the second is wet maturing. Dry aging (or hanging) is the most preferable and involves hanging a carcass on the bone from a hook in a big fridge. This process leads to an evaporation of moisture in the meat, intensifying the flavour of the beef whilst at the same time enzymes break down the connective tissue making the beef more tender.
Wet aging involves keeping boneless beef in vacuum bags which retains the moisture in the meat and significantly reduces the time of aging. It also makes it cheaper to produce as there is very little waste, both in terms of trimming or moisture loss. However you do not get the same intensity of flavour as dry aging.
So which method does Macbeth’s Butchers use? Well the answer is both! Our preference is to use dry aging methods as it does produce better meat and therefore we will do that in the vast majority of cases. However in a small amount of cases we use beef that is over thirty months at the point of slaughter which is required by law to be boned out in a slaughter house. Due to the constraints of most slaughter houses, this beef is not allowed to dry age as long as we would like so we finish it off by wet maturing.
How long to hang beef
So how long are we going to hang it for? Well at Macbeth’s we say a minimum of three weeks and quite often it is nearer four. If we hang it for less than that, we find that we do not get the intensity of flavour that we are looking for and also it might not be as tender as we would like.
But if hanging it only improves the flavour and tenderness why don’t we hang it for longer. Well it comes down to cost at the end of the day. The longer we dry age a piece of beef for, the more is lost in moisture and the more trimming we have to do so yet more weight is lost. We therefore have to charge more to cover this cost.
So it is a balance between producing excellent beef but also at a price that people can stomach (sorry) and it is very tricky. We have said 3 to 4 weeks because that is where we think the balance lies.
At the end of the day….
…….it is down to personal taste and we have been known to sell 6 week hung beef as a special and it has gone down really well. As always we do take requests and can therefore hang beef for specific lengths of time should a customer want that – we are willing to experiment. We hope though that given the breeds of animal that we use, people tastes and also peoples wallets, we have struck the right balance.