Insights from the Japan Wagyu Beef Export Promotion Committee.
By Hope S. Philbrick
The Japan Wagyu Beef Export Promotion Committee recently hosted the first official Japanese Wagyu event in Atlanta, Ga.
The brief seminar, demonstration and tasting was held exclusively for meat trade and food press with the stated goal to “showcase the quality and potential of authentic Wagyu beef produced from pedigree cattle raised in Japan.”
Think you know Wagyu? Here are ten things we learned:
2. Wagyu beef is known for its rich taste, smooth marbling that gives the meat a soft texture, and unique sweet aroma reminiscent of peaches and coconuts.
3. Domesticated cattle first arrived in Japan around 400 B.C. Of the more than 2.6 million head of cattle currently living in Japan, 96.9% are the Japanese Black breed. Four breeds are officially approved and registered for Wagyu beef: Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Shorthorn and Japanese Polled.
4. Wagyu cattle boast a pure blood line. Each individual animal’s genealogy can be traced back many generations with no cross-breeding and its pedigree is registered like a thoroughbred. The cattle registration system was introduced in 1920. A ten-digit individual identification number is assigned to each cow, so it can be verified and traced throughout the production, slaughter and distribution stages. Each animal’s nose print—as unique as the human fingerprint—is imprinted on the packaged meat from that animal for “stable to table” accountability.
5. Wagyu is a brand under which many different regional types fall, including Kobe.
6. Feeding management is considered a key to the final meat quality. Until the cattle are seven to ten months old, they are raised outdoors, feeding mainly on meadow grass. After that, each animal lives in a barn and fed rice straw and nutritious feed. Wagyu beef cows receive “tender and gentle care,” said Mr. Toshiaki Namba, vice president of the Japan Livestock Industry Association. (Breeding and pregnant cattle continue to graze.)
7. A unique Japanese grading system was developed as a basis to objectively judge the quality of Wagyu beef. The grading of meat quality is a five-step process that evaluates marbling, the color of meat, firmness and texture, fat color, and shine of the meat. Marbling is graded by its pattern, not as a percentage.
8. Carving was demonstrated by Kazuo Eguchi of Starzen International Co., Ltd. A handout details 15 specific cuts: chuck roll, shoulder clod, neck, chuck tender, brisket, shank, filet, ribeye, sirloin, short rib, short plate, gooseneck round, top round, rump and knuckle.
9. Wagyu beef fat has a very low melting point; it can melt in your mouth.
10. Wagyu beef works in a variety of dishes, including steak and hamburger. Sukiyaki, one of the best-known Japanese dishes, flavors thin-sliced Wagyu beef with sake, soy sauce, sugar and egg. Shabu-shabu, based on a Chinese hot pot dish, dips blanched Wagyu beef in sesame or pon-zu sauce. Seiro-mushi steams Wagyu beef with vegetables.
– Photos © HSP Media LLC