It was my birthday on Wednesday. 43 years on this planet. I thought I would celebrate a little, so decided to get my haircut and cook a nice dinner.
43 is no major milestone, so it called for something simple: a slab of sirloin steak on the grill, a green salad and some crusty bread. Then again, it was a birthday, major or not, so no ordinary bit of dead cow would do. I headed to the old food hall in Stockholm’s Östermalm district: one of the best in Europe.
There I paid a visit to an old favorite of mine, Willy Ohlsson the butcher. Ohlsson’s sell possibly the best sirloin steak in Sweden. Selected from a handful of small producers the perfectly marbled, grass-fed sirloins are hung for four weeks before being cut and sold.
And then there is Ohlsson’s Guldkött (gold beef). After four weeks hanging, Ohlsson’s select the best of the best and, still on the bone, dip them in melted, refined beef fat. In this protective coating they can age for a further four weeks without decomposing. It’s a remarkable process that I have never come across anywhere else. I have always been keen to try it.
As the name suggests, gold beef is not the cheapest of cuts (around 50 euros per steak). So for my 43rd, I plumped for the four-week aged. Not that you should feel sorry for me, of course; it is still staggeringly good meat.
But Ohlsson’s being Ohlsson’s (the best butcher in Sweden) and it being my birthday (I told him, of course) they threw in one bit of gold for the price of a four-weeker. What a treat.
Any of you who are even remotely interested in food will have read a thousand times that it pays in so many ways to buy good meat. From the welfare of the animal, to the health and taste benefits to the consumer; it’s nothing you don’t already know.
What struck me on Wednesday evening, was quite what a difference hanging meat can make. I have had the four-week meat before and, as I said, it is exquisite. But the eight week, was quite the most extraordinary piece of meat I have ever tasted. Just to compare the two, before cooking, told me everything I needed to know: the older piece was nearly half the size, meaning all the tasteless moisture had evaporated, leaving a small, concentrated, butter-soft, rich taste-bomb.
And as I gained another year, and some more wisdom, the lesson I had already, more-or-less learnt really hit home: it is, without doubt, worth spending as much as you can afford (plus a little more) on good meat.
It was my birthday. An unremarkable 43 years. The meat was the best I had ever tasted. What’s left for my 50th?