From Michelin starred chefs to award-winning rappers, it seems a Peterborough butchers is on to a winner with its latest line of beef.
Dry ageing- which makes the meat more tender with a butter-soft texture and accentuates the flavour - is certainly growing in popularity and James Morgan, a director at Stilton Butchers, is leading the way having hit on a niche market.
Former ice hockey pro James, whose dad Peter set up Stilton Butchers, in Stilton, in 1978, trialled dry ageing beef last year and got some positive feedback from Michelin starred Aaron Patterson, head chef at Hambleton Hall in Rutland which spurred him on.
“ I then had a proper go and I think we have cracked it,” he said.
“It has been nearly a year and we are getting it just about perfect - and we are really starting to pick up customers.
“But it is still early days , I don’t want to spread myself too thin and get too big, too quick.
“There are plenty of people in London who want it in Michelin starred places, so I have a waiting list.”
You will however find it on the menu at the likes of Clarkes in the city centre and occasionally at The Blue Bell in Glinton, as well as further afield at Hambleton Hall, The Wicked Witch at Ryhall, The Olive Branch at Clipsham, Barnsdale Lodge in Oakham, Tap & Kitchen at Oundle, The Old Bridge at Huntingdon and the Cock Inn at Hemingford.
And there are plenty more in the pipeline as what is still a new but growing side to the long-established Fengate-based family business grows.
“ Once I get people to try it they love it,” says James, “you can’t beat the flavour and tenderness, but the taste does change through the weeks it is hanging. It does start to taste a bit ‘gamey’ and eventually it can taste very mature, like a Stilton cheese.
“Personally, for me 35 days is about right and a good time to eat it just before it gets too dry and I think you get a really nice taste.”
Stilton’s dry ageing process is for a minimum of 28 days,which involves hanging the meat to allow the moisture to evaporate (as opposed to ageing in vac packs retaining the moisture and keeping the weight), which ultimately makes it a more expensive option on restaurant menus.
For special clients the ageing can be for between 40 and 60 days.
“Rap star Professor Green got in touch and we prepared and delivered him a 60-day dry aged Hereford brisket which he cooked for 10 hours and posted the photo on Instagram, as he loved it, which was good for our profile,” said James, who is behind the company’s expansion online and on social media.
“It is a controlled process and you have to be very careful, which is why a lot of butchers aren’t doing it,” he added..
“You have got to buy the meat in and not touch it for 30, 40 or 50 days, and if you have not done it right you can’t do anything with the meat and you have lost a lot of money.
“We now have a fridge for dry ageing where we keep the main doors locked and only go in when necessary, through a smaller entrance, because we don’t want little fluctuations in temperature which can have an effect.
“Keeping it as stable as possible is the key to getting the best results.”
For more on dry aged beef and Stilton Butchers - named retailer of the month for October by the Hereford Cattle Society - go to www.stiltonbutchers.co.uk
What the chef’s think about dry aged beef
“Dry aging has a huge advantage as the loss of blood and water helps to intensify the meat’s flavour as well as tenderising and maturing,” said head chef Will Frankgate at the Blue Bell in Glinton, who offers dry aged beef on special menus.
“At 40 days I believe the meat can lose up to 15-20 per cent of its water content and after this it must be trimmed on all of the outside edges,” he said. “This process is the main reason for its high cost to yield ratio.
“Regarding the cooking...it’s really the same process as any sirloin. I would recommend cooking it rare or medium rare to retain the meat’s juice (flavour). Cooking it longer will end up making the meat turn grainy, dry and ruin the texture. ”
Dameon Clarke, head chef at The Wicked Witch, is a big fan of the process and you will find Stilton Butchers’
40-day dry aged sirloin on his dinner menu as a steak , rather than as part of a Sunday lunch, with him agreeing it is too expensive for roast beef, other than special occasions .
“It is much better than wet meat,” he said. “ And the ageing means you can really smell it when you are preparing the steak.”
He might trim a bit of fat off but other than that it is water bathed and then panfried as normal.
“I keep some of the fat on and it goes really smokey, you get an amazing flavour.” he added.