Some meats require an ageing time in order to be able to eat them in optimum conditions. In recent years, a new trend has appeared that is turning this ageing of beef into maturation, over-maturation and even extreme maturation, which has generated a debate, but with an agreement amongst gourmets and connoisseurs: ageing gives the meat more flavour and texture, it provides nuances; it can be compared to the aged meat of Iberian acorn-fed hams.
When any beef animal is slaughtered, the meat needs a time for the rigor mortis to relax, which in the case of cows and oxen is at least 15 or 20 days. If the meat is eaten before this, it will be tough and leathery and a great deal of liquid will be released, because it will not have lost this during the ageing process.
Ventilated rooms at less than 2 ºC achieve the miracle
Ageing the meat is how to stop time for the animal’s body and to do this it is necessary to use special ageing rooms that only a few companies, and even fewer restaurants, possess.
Ageing is a preservation technique based on regulating the temperature (less than 2 ºC, often below 1 ºC, without ever reaching freezing point), the humidity and very importantly, the ventilation. This causes the loss of water from the meat and the concentration of flavours, as well as the proliferation of mould on the fat that is wrapped around the piece and that will protect it. This loss of water also causes a weight loss of up to 30% in the pieces subjected to ageing.
This ageing period may be short (from 30 to 65 days), long (from 65 to 200 days) or extreme (over 200 days). For the second option, only loins from old cows and oxen are chosen, whilst for the extreme ageing, only whole oxen with very special characteristics, “unique pieces” are used.
In addition to the weight loss, the loins subjected to ageing also become smaller because the ends of each piece, which remain in contact with the cold and with the air become dried and are discarded when the meat is divided up.
Ageing does not bring greater juiciness to the meat, because it loses a good part or virtually all the water, but it does bring a smoother feel to the palate, bringing out the tertiary flavors and lactic notes. Carles Tejedor, gastronomic executive at El Nacional, talks about the flavours of butter, wet soil and touches of roast.