Crafting Idaho Flavor
Idaho’s Beef Enhanced Through Dry Aging Research
When the sommelier gives you a recommendation for the perfect red wine to accompany your steak, part of their selection is based on the flavors the wine has and how that particular selection can complement your meal.
Phillip Bass, assistant professor and meat scientist in the Department of Animal and Veterinary Science at University of Idaho, thinks you might soon be able to do the same with the steak itself.
Just as wine made from grapes from a specific region of the world will create certain flavors, Bass and his team recently conducted a study to see if dry aging beef in different areas of the country can produce unique tastes in the meat.
In the dry aging process, the open-air refrigerated environment allows for moisture loss in the meat, causing the flavors to concentrate. At the same time, the meat can become home to friendly molds and yeasts and that’s where Bass hopes to show that the taste of beef will differ depending on where it is dry aged.
“It’s time for meat sciences to get involved so we can explain what’s going on,” said Bass. “There’s very little research out there about this.”
The concept is called terroir (tehr-wahr), and it refers to topographical factors specific to a region such as climate and other environmental conditions.
Enzymes in the mold and yeast on the beef break down the muscle in the meat as a food source. This produces unique aromatics, flavors and textures in the meat as a by-product.
The study being conducted by U of I is funded by the Idaho Beef Council. Bass approached the council early in 2019 to suggest that data from the study would not only help them market their product but would also allow them to take advantage of the excitement about dry aged beef in the restaurant arena.
There’s very little research out there about this. Phillip Bass
Bass’s group purchased bulk beef from an Inland Northwest producer last May and shipped the unopened packages to dry aging facilities in nine areas across the country. The meat was returned to Bass’s team in late July.
“It was very obvious just by opening the bags that the aromas were different,” Bass said. “The smells were very unique.”
Next came the taste test.
Bass invited approximately 30 local and regional restaurateurs to a taste test at the Carmelita Spencer Food Laboratory, part of the Margaret Ritchie School of Family and Consumer Sciences on the Moscow campus. The test featured samples of beef from each area where it was dry aged.
Typically, dry aged beef is described as nutty, earthy or oaky in flavor, said Bass. Although the data from this study is still being compiled, the taste test showed there were indeed differences in each sample.
“The flavor profiles were not extreme, but you could taste differences,” said George Skandalos, co-owner of the Sangria Grille and Maialina Pizzeria Napoletana in Moscow.
The U of I research team is using DNA sequencing to profile this microbial information so they can determine what microbes are present in each sample. Once the specific microbes in each sample are determined, the data will be used to link specific tastes to specific microbes.
“We want to find out what’s in the mold,” said Bass. “Who are the players, how are they interacting with the meat and what flavors does that interaction produce?”
A secondary goal of the research is to determine if microbes specific to a different area of the country could be re-created locally. Based on data taken from the study and feedback from the taste testing, it could be possible to dry age beef to get a specific flavor profile each time.
It could also be possible to create a signature flavor unique to Idaho that could be re-created and sold to restaurants all over the Gem State.
“How amazing would it be to serve a steak and be able to say, ‘This is Idaho dry aged beef,’” said Skandalos.
Article by David Jackson, for University Communications and Marketing
Published in the spring 2020 issue of Here We Have Idaho.