When it comes to Japanese beef, the various brands and grades can be pretty puzzling. Chase away your confusion with this quick guide.
Wagyu (和牛) refers to 4 breeds of Japanese cows that are raised specifically for their meat. The four breeds are Japanese Black (Kuroge Washu 黒毛和種), Japanese Brown (Akage Washu 赤毛和種), Japanese Polled (Mukaku Washu 無角和種) and Japanese Shorthorn (Nihon Tankaku Washu 日本短角和種). Most Japanese cattle, however, are Japanese Black.
Wagyu is usually identified by the area it comes from. For example, Kobe, Mishima, Matsusaka, Ōmi, and Sanda beef is sold as a particular ‘brand’ of beef that bears the name of its region of origin. Certain areas, such as Kobe, are especially well known for the quality of their beef, which sells for a high price.
What makes wagyu special?
The most highly sought-after kinds of wagyu are characterized by their intense marbling. In marbled beef, the flesh is interlaced with a particular kind of fat that has a low melting point and higher levels of omega 3 and 6. It’s this fat that makes the meat so delicious. On top of this, great care is taken in raising wagyu cows, which is unsurprising given the high prices that they can fetch. Meticulous attention is paid to ranking the beef, too, once it is ready for shipping, with the emphasis placed firmly on quality at every step of the process.
How is the beef graded?
Two types of grades are used in rating Japanese beef. One assesses the yield grade and the other assesses the meat quality. The yield grade depends on the quantity of meat that the cow yields. In other words, for two cows of the same weight the one that yields more meat will have a higher grade. The yield grades are divided into three stages – A, B and C, with A being the best. Grades for meat quality run from 1 to 5, with 5 as the best grade. First, an evaluation of 4 areas is performed: marbling, meat colour and brightness, meat firmness and texture, colour, lustre and quality of fat. Then an overall final grade is determined based on the scores in these areas.
Wagyu around the world
Outside Japan, Kobe beef and wagyu beef in general are well known for being a cut above the beef you can find elsewhere both in terms of quality and price. Around ten years ago, top London restaurants started selling wagyu steaks and burgers at astronomical prices, and wagyu became a byword for luxury beef.
Barack Obama famously insisted on eating Kobe beef when he visited Japan, and he is only one among the hordes of international visitors who flock to Kobe to try the city’s legendary delicacy. These visitors are attracted by legends of cows that drink beer and have massages (which turn out not to be so far from the truth in the case of some beef brands) and they are seldom disappointed.
Some countries, such as Australia, the United States, Scotland and Canada, love Japanese beef so much that they have established their own wagyu herds. Many of these, however, are not pure-bred wagyu, but come from wagyu cows cross-bred with another breed, such as Angus cattle. Even a pure-bred wagyu herd descended from a cattle brand such as Kobe, for example, cannot be called by the name of the brand, though. Kobe beef, just like champagne or certain kinds of cheese, can only be called Kobe beef if it comes from Kobe.
So if you’re a fan of beef, Kansai is arguably the best place in the world to be. Here you can try the very best. Bon appetit!
Butchers in Kansai
In Osaka, the nation’s kitchen, you’ll find dozens of professional butchers who specialize in selecting the most delicious meat, and who can provide advice on the best cuts of beef to choose.
“Good afternoon. Welcome to our shop!” (“Konnichiwa. Irasshaimase”)
“What are you making for dinner tonight?” (“Kyo wa nani o bangohan ni tsukuru yotei desu ka?”)
“Tonight I’m planning to make meatballs.” (“Konbanwa miito booru o tsukuru yotei desu.”)
“How many people are you feeding?” (“Nanninbun desu ka?”)
“Just two.” (“Futari bun desu.”)
“May I recommend a mixture of beef and pork mince?” (“Ushi to buta no aibiki minchi ga yoi ne”)
“OK then, I’ll take 100 g of the beef and pork mince.” (“Hai, dewa sore o hyaku guramu kudasai.”)
For more information on butchers in Osaka: http://www.osaka-meat.com/shop/
By LIFE IN KANSAI