Arcadia Meat Market, in the middle stages of developing its dry-aged steak program, just cut into a few steaks aged for about 100 days. You can dry-age steak for 14 days or 21 days. You can dry-age steaks for 30 or 45 days. But once you get beyond 45 days, meat gets weird.
The way to dry-age a steak is to store it uncovered in a cold but not freezing room. A few things happen as the days wing by. One, meat loses moisture, resulting in denser flavor and texture. Two, enzymes alter connective tissues, deepening tenderness. Three, bacteria work strange magic, imbuing meat with nuances of barnyard funk that intensify as the aging marches on.
A steak aged for two weeks will get softer, and its flavors will concentrate. A steak aged for three or four weeks will start to show funk. You might draw the line at 45 days, depending on your taste for earthiness.
"This thing is going to be melting," says Nick Addante, as he trims New York strip aged for 100 days.
Addante is the owner of Arcadia Meat Market. The meat he is trimming with a long curved knife looks nothing like meat you should consume. White growth splotches the outside, furring the meat in tufts. There is an odd coating of black, a cauterized-looking coal black, like what you see on an Egyptian mummy hauled out of an entombed sarcophagus. The hunk is shriveled and warped.
Addante slides his knife just under the molds and blemishes. He slices off a thin swath, sets it aside, lifts his knife, slides, and cuts more of the thin surface free.
Under the surface, the steak is deep, dark red. It's the color of mahogany and cooked blood.
What he is doing is carving away the exterior. When he is done, what will be left are New York strips, all broken down from one larger cut that had been hanging since before Cinco de Mayo.
During dry-aging, meat can lose more than a quarter of its weight. (This is water weight lost to evaporation.) Lost mass and added time on the shelf are two drivers behind dry-aged steak's price. Addante will sell long-aged New York strips for $40 to $50 a pound.
Addante plans to have a wide selection of dry-aged steaks on hand for customers. He wants to keep 30-day and 45-day beef regularly, as well as steak aged for far longer.
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Cooked, Addante's 100-day strip has an almost unbelievable spirit. It is a detonation of darkly beefy flavor. You can taste clean blood and iron. But what seems to stretch the limits of credibility are the textures of the blooming funk. These earthy tones call to mind hay and farm animals and harvests and rain and clay soil and penicillin and mold and death. It's similar to the flavor matrix you get when you eat the rind of a washed-rind cheese, like Taleggio.
If you're looking to up your grilling, or to experience meat in a way that seems to make meat eating even more primal than it already is, ask Addante if he has long-aged steaks when you're in. He's still developing the program, but he may have something wild waiting back in the cooler.
Arcadia Meat Market. 3950 East Indian School Road, #130; 602-595-4310.
Wednesday 2 to 7 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Monday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.