Dry-aged beef is one of those things that really get our customers excited whenever we give tours of our meat locker. They marvel at the long row of rib and drop loins along the top of the cooler racks, oohing and ahhing at their individual farm tags and even petting the soft snow of mold silently changing the beef from good to great.
Of course, dry aging, far from being the exotic ritual we make it out to be today, is what pretty much all beef that wasn't cured or canned used to be 30 years ago. What happened? Why is properly hung beef such an oddity today if it was the industry standard such a short time ago? Plastic bags, unfortunately, are the anti-climactic answer. Basically, the meatpacking industry figured out that if you stick a piece of meat in a vacuum-sealed bag it not only reduces the amount of money that is lost in water weight and trim but it also "ages" faster. Thus the age-old Wet vs. Dry Aging Controversy began.
Okay, so what is aging and what are the differences between wet and dry aging exactly? Aging is the process during which microbes and enzymes act upon the meat to help break down the connective tissue, for the sake of making the aforementioned meat object more tender. Whether it happens in a bag or out in the air as a big swinging side of beef, that element of the process is the same (okay, almost the same).