There is a growing awareness among sophisticated foodies that dry-aged meat from older animals is a delicious treat.
The notion of dry-aging goes back before the ice age. Eskimos in Greenland store seabirds known as Auks inside sealskin placed under freezing seaweed and rock until the delicacies develop a nose like Gorgonzola.
Okay, your average Aussie may not yet be ready for Kiviak but a West Australian Merino breeder says they should embrace dry-aged mutton.
David Thompson, his wife, Susan, and son, Hamish, run 2800 Merino ewes on 2500 hectares at Katanning and are passionate about producing dry-aged product from older ewes above five years with a condition score of 2.8 to 3.
The family selects for smooth skin (no mulesing), growth, muscle and fat. “Fat is not a bad thing if, in our case, it is a thin layer covering the whole animal,” Mr Thompson says.
“The aging process requires fat cover to insulate the carcase from three weeks of temperatures at zero to one degree C.”
Wool remains the main product at Moojepin with a yearling staple length of 21.55 but Mr Thompson is banking on a market breakthrough with dry aged product because he believes in its taste and can see the concept re-invigorating Australia’s Merino flock by providing a market for older ewes.
The dry aging process has its hiccups, like the loss of trim and the challenge of marketing leg (it requires slow cooking up to nine hours which makes it an ideal hot pot dish).
One year ago Meat and Livestock Authority value chain innovation general manager, Sean Starling, said exciting times lay ahead.
But those times are still a-comin’ with Mr Thompson struggling to create interest locally although Malaysia and the Middle East love the idea.
Indeed the potential is enormous. Dealing with clients who buy his stud rams Mr Thompson says he has 10,000 ewes each year available for processing right now, although ramping up production quickly might be an issue.
Top chefs in Perth restaurants love Moojepin’s aged Merino but demand it “fresh” not frozen, he said.
“If we can convince chefs to take frozen meat, after it’s dry-aged, the flexibility of handling this product will be greatly improved.”
Key to success is selling the whole carcase and Mr Thompson believes mutton offal has a huge role in aged care nutrition as it is packed with micro-nutrients that leaves processed chicken and pork far behind.