Dry-ageing venison: injecting flavour and tenderness

TA Mungure at ICOMST2017
Mungure presenting at ICoMST 2017.

Dry-ageing, an ancient method of preserving meat, is having a bit of a moment in the culinary sun. Now it’s being brought right up-to-date for New Zealand venison by meat researchers at the University of Otago, offering the chance of a new venison product line.

The appeal of dry-aged meat lies in its tastiness. The flavours are enhanced in the ageing oxidation process, explains meat scientist Tanyaradzwa (TA) Mungure, who has become an expert in the subject since starting his PhD at Otago in 2016. He won an award for a presentation on his work to date at last year’s International Conference on Meat Science and Technology (ICoMST) conference in Cork, Ireland.

Even though wild venison hunters remove the skin and hang the carcase, dry-ageing venison for commercial sale is not very common.

“We’re trying to modernise the process to make it more applicable commercially,” the researcher originally from Zimbabwe explains.

TA Mungure hunting
TA Mungure: never happier than when he’s out stalking deer in the Blue Mountains, near Tapanui.

Mungure is working alongside his primary supervisor associate professor Alaa El-Din Bekhit, a meat scientist, and associate professors John Birch and Alan Carne, in the University’s Department of Food Science and Biochemistry to further refine the process specifically for New Zealand venison.

“We’re looking at technologies to speed up the ageing process and Pulsed Electric Field (PEF) technology is great at that.”

PEF is being used for the first time on venison to deliver high voltage electrical pulses to the meat between two electrodes to improve its quality and reduce ageing time. It does this by breaking down the cell walls to increase cell permeability and speed up proteolysis (protein breakdown) during ageing which enhances tenderisation.

Another problem that they are trying to solve is losing too much moisture during the process, commonly around 30 percent of the weight. “We’re looking at new combinations of technologies and processes to control weight loss, including lowering the relative humidity,” says Mungure.

After PEF, the venison is then dry-aged in cabinets for 10 days at a controlled ambient temperature of 2-5°C, with a strictly controlled humidity of between 60-80 percent. Fans waft air around the meat at a constant speed, and then it is wet-aged (vacuum packed) for 11 days.

“It’s all about concentrating the natural flavours, which develop over time, while the product becomes more tender,” says Mungure.  The researchers have also encompassed the use of novel NMR spectroscopical methods to monitor the meat quality over the dry ageing process.

The research idea came about as a result of sensory evaluation supported by Alliance Group aimed at investigating whether consumers can differentiate between venison, beef and lamb, at the Dunedin Science Festival. While the tenderness of all meats was extremely appreciated by the consumers, a large percentage of the consumers were unable to differentiate venison from lamb.

Deer Industry News 93“For those used to a wild venison flavour, we found farmed venison is not strong enough. We believe our dry-ageing techniques used on farmed venison could help with European game tastes, for example, bringing the product closer to what they are used to,” says Mungure. “It may even open a new market.”

He recently presented the latest findings at the ICoMST 2018 conference in Melbourne Australia and expects to complete his PhD project in April 2019.

A keen deer stalker, usually of fallow deer, and of the outdoors Mungure is often found in the Blue Mountains near Tapanui. He loves working with venison, he says, and came to Otago to do his PhD because of the opportunities offered for his particular interests. His work has been funded by the University and AgResearch (Ltd) NZ to date.

“TA’s combination of skills and passion about deer and venison is very rare to find,” says Bekhit.  “We would be very happy to hear from anyone who would like to collaborate on commercial and/or post-doctoral projects to retain his skills here once he completes his PhD.”

This article first appeared in Deer Industry News magazine (December 2018/January 2019), see left, and is reproduced here with permission. Check out the magazine for more in-depth deer industry specific news.

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