Two Rivers Dry Aged Beef
At Two Rivers Specialty Meats, tall dark wooden doors separate the calm front office from the organized chaos of high volume butchery and continuous loading of meat into delivery trucks for restaurants. Beyond these doors stands a plain white industrial cooler door. From the outside, this door looks the same as the others that line the hallway of the Two Rivers production facility; yet unlike the others, it is rarely opened, and when it is, it’s done only by specially trained butchers. This door is the entrance to a room that maintains a homeostasis of near perfect climate control, housing the dry-aged beef program that Two Rivers is so well known for.
Born out of demand from our chefs, the dry age room holds some of the finest cuts of beef produced in western Canada. Select primal pieces from our naturally raised beef are aged an average of 35 days, with some cuts of beef and methods allowing us to age up to 100 days for certain customers. The aging process requires a precise balance of humidity, temperature control, air-flow, and allowed aging time. Using high-quality, well-marbled starter meats in combination with these four factors, is what creates the flavour of our dry-aged beef. The smell of the beef in the dry-aging room is often described as earthy, rich and sophisticated.
Once the whole carcasses of beef have been processed by the Two Rivers Team, the pieces selected for dry-age are placed in the conditioning room on wire racks or hung from meat hooks that allow for full exposure to the environmental conditions of the room. For the next 35 days the beef loses moisture, upwards of 20 percent, which is the main contributor to amplifying and concentrating the taste of the beef. The enzymatic process tenderizes and further flavours the beef, and these processes together are what build the unique characteristics of each dried primal.
When the required number of days is met, the butchers will process these pieces of dry-age, removing the exterior pieces that fall sacrifice to the aging process, as well as excess fat and bone in accordance with each chef’s requirements. The ends, which by now have formed a hard, dark crust that has acted as a flavour seal for the meat inside, are trimmed off to reveal the effects of the aging process hidden underneath. The pieces are then wrapped in cheesecloth to allow high air-flow during the shipping process and for pre-cooking storage at the restaurant.
There is no question that dry-aged beef is more time consuming, laborious, and risky than wet aged beef, and this is reflected in the price. The moisture loss alone reduces the start weight of the product and must be recaptured in the selling price. Add on the cost and weight loss of removing the pieces that need to be trimmed off to make the piece sellable, and the resources needed to maintain a special room and its cooling units, dehumidifiers and fans which have the sole job of conditioning the beef, and the reason for the higher cost of dry-aged beef becomes clear.
It is this labour, care, and attention to detail, that make the pieces what they are, and why they are so sought after. Often compared to a fine wine for its complexity, dry-aged beef flavours present a myriad of flavours once cooked. Some describe it as having the smell of freshly buttered pop-corn, and flavours comparable to an aged cheese, rich and concentrated beef flavour, and the characteristics of what is known as the fifth dimension of flavour, umami.
Written by: Ray Bucknell, Head Butcher at Two Rivers Meats
Photos by: Fraser Mittlestead, Vancouver Sales Rep at Two Rivers Meats