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Northern Ireland: The Business of Dry-Ageing Beef from Native Breeds

Northern Ireland: The Business of Dry-Ageing Beef from Native Breeds
Carol Wilson: At Hannan's Meats, rows of beef were laid on metal racks at different stages of ageing.
Northern Ireland‘s food is much more than about eating and dining - food lies at the very heart of its culture. A new generation of producers and chefs has transformed its centuries old culinary heritage of fine cheeses, sensational seafood, delicious breads and cakes and superb beef into an innovative and vibrant cuisine.
On a recent visit there, it was the beef from Hannan Meats that most captured my interest.  Based at Moira in rural county Armagh, Hannan has gained many gold star awards for its dry-aged beef.  The ageing process is intriguing. The company is the only processor in Europe to dry age beef (and other meats) in a Himalayan salt chamber (there are only four in the world).  Peter Hannan, managing director of Hannan Meats, who set up the business in 1992, imported the salt blocks from the foothills of the Himalayas in Pakistan.
This exceptionally pure salt comes from mines in the Himalayan range in the Punjab region, which date back over 250 million years. The use of Himalayan salt in the dry-ageing of meat is a fairly recent phenomenon and is the result of years of research.
My visit to the salt chamber, revealed rows of beef laid on metal racks at different stages of ageing. The salt is in the form of pretty translucent pink blocks, which are cut by hand and which make up a whole wall of the cold chamber, where the temperature is strictly monitored. The salt wall draws moisture from the beef and over the ageing period (anywhere from 28-45 days) concentrates and significantly increases the flavour of the meat.  The salt also promotes good bacteria and inhibits less desirable bacteria and an added bonus is that the salt also purifies the air in the room, delivering a clean fresh
Northern Ireland: The Business of Dry-Ageing Beef from Native Breeds
How the process works is a closely guarded secret - Peter Hannan wouldn’t reveal  too much about how the method actually works,  but the pink salt has a very high mineral content and its negative ions counteract the positive ions of meat and result in a uniquely flavoursome  product.  But it’s not just the salt alone, but also the carefully controlled and monitored combination of temperature, humidity, and light. The end result s speak for themselves with meltingly tender beef with a succulent texture and rich deep beefy flavour.
Of course it helps that the beef comes from native breeds, supplied by local farmers.  The beef is much sought after by top chefs, not just in Northern Ireland but in England too and it’s also on sale in Fortnum and Mason, but for those lucky enough to live in the area, it’s sold in the shop on the premises in Moira, along with other tasty meats and food products from the region.
I sampled steaks at different stages of ageing and all were distinctively different in flavour and texture.  Streakily marbled with creamy fat, without a doubt, they remain the best steaks I’ve ever tasted.
Since my visit, a new larger chamber has been added to accommodate the increase in demand for the beef and is the largest of its type in the world. The new chamber has 12 foot high walls and is five times larger than the original.
The trip was organised by Peter Hannan of Hannan Meats and was funded by Invest Northern Ireland to  showcase some of the best food producers in the region.
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10 March 2014
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