Sheep Industry Business Innovation

Market opportunities for dry aged sheep meat

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Dry ageing has been a common way for butchers to preserve and tenderise meat for centuries and involves storing meat for an extended period of at least 21 days, usually without packaging. SIBI is investigating the market opportunities for dry aged sheep meat as part of a larger joint project with Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA). 

The process of dry ageing

Ageing is an important contributor to the eating quality of meat regardless of the way it is processed. Meat Standards Australia (MSA) graded lamb should be aged for a minimum of five days when sold fresh. Since plastic wrapping became common in the mid 1970’s, ‘wet ageing’ has been the norm; where the meat is sealed in plastic for storage. This allows for minimal moisture and weight loss, and tenderisation occurs due to enzymes naturally present in the meat.

With dry ageing the ageing period is extended to improve tenderness and flavour.  With the correct temperature (<2°C, ideally -1 to 0°C) and humidity conditions (75-85%) a dry crust forms on the surface of the meat, and this prevents bacteria and mould growing whilst the meat tenderises.

Compared to lamb, meat from older animals can be tougher and stronger in flavour, hence there is potential to use an extended ageing period to improve this product. A disadvantage is a reduction in weight due to moisture loss and increased trim compared to wet ageing, so a premium price is required to make the product viable.

Figure 1 The dark and dry surface of a mutton loin undergoing dry ageing

Market opportunities

Department Senior Research Officer Dr Robin Jacob is leading SIBI’s involvement in this project. Robin said “With the WA flock being predominantly merino, there is an interest within industry to improve the value of meat from older animals and dry ageing is potentially a way of doing this.

“Together with MLA we are looking into what market demand there is for this product, and we’ll also look at what regulations and guidelines will govern it, economics and profitability, and of course eating quality and how it compares with wet aged meat on the consumer’s palate.”

Preliminary findings: beef industry

A study being conducted by the University of Melbourne has just begun and to date has concentrated on the pathway that led to the beef trend for dry ageing. This trend is now worldwide and the study suggests a similar path could be followed for sheep meat.

The beef trend started in restaurants and has evolved to dry aged beef becoming available in speciality shops and butchers.  This occurred first in Germany in the mid 2000’s and subsequently moved to the USA, then to Asia and now the Middle East.  In the US, the market for dry aged beef was valued at $10 billion in 2015, equivalent to about 10% of the total beef market. The price is about twice that of wet aged meat but can be valued at the same level as Wagyu (4-6 times) when extended ageing periods (>50 days) are used.

Figure 2 The worldwide interest in dry aged beef (source Google trends)

Robin added “If we use beef as an example, consumption is forecasted to stagnate globally – but the demand for dry aged beef will likely increase due to an increase in demand for protein-rich food products and consumer trends towards higher quality food.”

“Consumers for dry aged meats are looking for an authentic, unique premium eating experience.

“So far, dry ageing seems to be a real opportunity for sheepmeat but more information will become available as the project progresses.”

For more information on this project, contact Robin at robin.jacob@dpird.wa.gov.au