Dry age bags have revolutionised charcuterie by making this once artisan craft more accessible to the masses than ever before. Previously charcutiers would have to create conditioning rooms with expensively controlled environments to keep the meat safe while it dries. Now it’s possible with these bags to air dry meat safely in the fridge.
In the world of charcuterie, dry age bags are in their infancy, Here in the UK there are more and more commercial users who see the benefits of conditioning meat in it’s own tiny conditioning bag without the expense of a purpose built conditioning room. Throughout this book I call for conditions to air dry product to be within quite strict parameters. Using these bags removes the need to worry about these metrics as you can air dry in the fridge.
Dry aging bags use a uniquely formulated combination of polymers which form a single layer plastic film which is both moisture- and oxygen-permeable. This plastic membrane is food grade and works in a similar way to breathable fabric used in sportswear.
These bags are a little more expensive than traditional high end vacuum bags and you will need to have access to a food saver type vacuum machine. If you’re a traditional charcutier then you’ll probably baulk at the idea of using such a bag as you’ll not be able to add an external layer of meat starter culture for traditionally fermented sausage but that’s about the sum total of the disadvantages. Starter cultures are expensive and have a short shelf life. Unless you are making large quantities it is unlikely you’ll be using them very often.
Using dry age bags
To use dry age bags you’ll need to remove as much air from the bags as possible before sealing them. The bags are smooth faces on the inside making it difficult to use a vacuum food saver machine to extract the air. To assist, these bags come with a vac assist strip which is inserted into the top of the bag to simulate the internal ridges found on a traditional food saver bag and only needs to be a couple of inches wide at most.
Vac assist strip
Insert the vac assist into the mouth of the bag leaving a little of the vac assist strip protruding from the bag. This is important as the bag will have a tendency to flatten when the vacuum is pulled. The point of the vac assist strip is to maintain a small air gap so the vacuum machine can still work to expel the air from the bag.
It is important that the vac assist strip crosses the heat sealing bar as this is another point where the machine can have difficulty in removing the air from the bag.
Don’t worry too much if you get a good vacuum one day and the day after it looks like the vacuum has been lost a little. This is normal as the bags aren’t true vacuum bags. The vacuum serves to make a sound contact between the bag and the meat to aid drying. The bag only needs to be in contact with the meat for about a day before it forms a bond and will remain in contact for the duration of the drying.
These bags allow moisture to pass through in the form of water vapour but not as a fluid. The bag has to still be in a reasonably dry environment (which a fridge usually is) to work to their fullest.
Buy these bags
The dry ageing bags come in various sizes. The most popular sizes are the 240mm x 350mm which can be used to dry age a boneless joint of beef or lamb. The narrower sizes, typically 200mm x 400mm can be used to dry age cuts of meat like steaks, pork loin, rolled pancetta or duck breasts. These bags can also be used to create your own air dried bacon in the safety of your home refrigerator.
Meat can also be smoked through the dry aging bags the flavour and aroma compounds in the smoke permeate the membrane imparting their flavour to the meat as it sits safely inside the membrane.