Aging (meat, not me!)

Discussion in 'Open Forum With Harold McGee' started by chrose, Dec 15, 2005.

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  1. chrose

    chrose

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    I understand that when you dry age meat the flavor improves and the meat becomes more tender through the breakdown of lactic acids breaking down lysosomes. It makes sense that the accumulating degraded proteins and acids would add to flavor, by creating the "saltiness" and "sourness" the tastebuds crave. It also seems to make sense that acids in any state of being would break down fiberous tissues aiding in creating tenderness. In places such as the arctic where salt is pretty much non existent the natives would allow the meat to rot to create that taste that the tastebuds crave.

    Now allowing for the fact that salting (cures) inhibit the breakdown of the proteins and amino acids as opposed to dry aging, you can see how an item such as a Smithfield Ham would cure and not breakdown and rot.
    However, considering also that curing enters into the meat slowly eventually getting to the core of the meat how is it that the inside of the meat closest to the bone would not putrify by the time the cure reached it? I am referring to hams that age over a year.
    You would think that marrow being the harbor of so much amino acid and proteins would be the first to go, regardless of the fact that the only oxygen present is what's in the meat at the time of slaughter.
     
  2. harold mcgee

    harold mcgee

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    The muscle and bone of a healthy animal is essentially sterile: there are no or few bacteria deep in the meat to cause spoilage. All the bacteria are at or near the meat surface, which is where the salt concentration is the highest. The salt doesn’t take a year to penetrate to the bone; that extended aging is to allow the meat enzymes to do in months what they do in weeks of dry aging. All this being said, dry-cured hams sometimes do go bad at the bone, which is why they’re regularly tested during curing by sniffing the end of a needle plunged into the meat.

    Harold
     
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