For James and Pat Clee, the owners of Inglewood Aged Beef, dry aged beef is a serious business and is about running a butcher shop in the “old fashioned way”. Since the early 1960s, the vacuum packing of beef became the norm for most processors. In fact James ran a butcher shop in Deniliquin for 20 years and ran his business around vacuum packed beef.
According to James, the advantage of the vacuum packed process was that butchers could “wet age” the beef in the bag and not lose any of the weight of the beef. Wet ageing was much more cost effective for the processors, but a weaning of the consumers’ taste buds began to occur. Surely, but slowly, the consumer forgot what the taste of real beef was like.
However James says that before the 1960s the majority of beef was dry aged. The dry ageing process takes special care and requires a relatively large amount of stock. It is quite time consuming, expensive and requires extra effort, storage capacity and high quality beef to start the process.
When James and Pat purchased Meat on Brooke Street in Inglewood, they saw this as the perfect opportunity to reintroduce the dry ageing process of beef and thus Inglewood Aged Beef was born. James and Pat initially invested over $80,000 in new equipment for the business. Apart from one bench, everything was new and the cool room was increased over four times its original size.
James and Pat did an enormous amount of research into equipment, temperature and aged beef procedures. The aged beef process involves hanging a whole carcase for 21 days. During this time, a crust forms on the outside of the loin, very similar to beef jerky. This layer is trimmed away leaving steaks that are absolutely superior in tenderness and flavour. During the dry ageing process, the juices are absorbed into the meat which enhances the flavour and tenderises the steaks. Some butchers will hang a carcase for 14 days, but as far as James and Pat are aware, they are the only butchers in Victoria that hang the carcase for the entire 21 days for truly cured aged beef.
As a result of this dry ageing process, up to 20 percent of the original weight of the loin is lost. This is why aged beef was only offered in fine restaurants, upscale grocery stores and gourmet steak companies.
James and Pat carry a continuous three week supply of meat in order for the aged beef process to work effectively. Four local farms supply the shop, the farmers can actually walk into the shop and see the whole body hanging. They can buy their own meat, see how it is presented and James and Pat can give them feedback from customers.
All of these factors, plus James and Pat’s great attention to detail ensure that the dry aged beef produced by Inglewood Aged Beef is of outstanding quality.