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Wagyu Beef: meat that’s out of this world…

Wagyu Beef: meat that’s out of this world…

Jean-Patrick Ménard - 2010-08-11

Tasting a thin slice of Wagyu beef, which is far too often called Kobe beef, is an astounding experience. The word tender is not enough to qualify the silky, melt-in-your-mouth texture of this unique product. Further explanation is needed!

As far as Kobe beef is concerned we’ve heard it all. The cattle are raised on beer and massaged by the expert hands of the farmers in order to attain a degree of marbling unequalled in the bovine race. Nothing could be further from the truth. So let’s start by debunking a few common myths.
 
Hideichi Katagiri is the chef from one of Kyoto’s very famous Teppanyaki. A Teppanyaki, literally “grilled on an iron plate”, is a restaurant where only grilled meat is served. Hideichi Katagiri’s restaurant specialises in Wagyu beef and is unable to prevent a slight smile appearing on his face when we ask him what type of beer the cattle drink. “This story isn’t quite true. The rumour was in fact a marketing ploy carried out several years ago by the farmers of the Kobe region. There is nothing wrong with giving beer to animals, but having visited quite a few farms I can tell you that they drink water,” he explains. And as for the massages... “Once again this comes from well organised publicity, but the reality is that the farmers don’t have this degree of intimacy with their livestock...” He smiles again.
 
So where does this extraordinary marbled meat come from? It comes, quite simply, from the animal’s genetic characteristics. Wagyu cattle have a natural ability to store fat in their muscle tissue. The art of breeding them lies in promoting this tendency towards fatness. Extremely precise feeding programmes are put in place and each farmer monitors the weight gaining process according to the animal’s age. They are fed exclusively on cereals and the Wagyu cattle grow in this way for three years before being slaughtered.
 
Wagyu cattle are not born on farms. The farmers buy them in at the age of nine or ten months from producers who are past masters in working with their livestock’s gene pool. Although these first months of life are spent in the fields, once they arrive in the farms they are put into small stalling boxes which they never leave, so they do not get any exercise. Healthy food which is precisely measured and fresh pure water are the secrets of this extraordinary meat.
 
At Japanese butchers, it’s not uncommon to see the price per kilo rise above 10,000 yen (around £65). The meat is classified into several categories depending on the degree of marbling. In a nutshell, the whiter the meat, a sign of optimum tenderness, the more expensive it is. The chefs serve it grilled in fine juicy slices with delicate flavours that linger long in the mouth. Hideichi Katagiri likes to present it raw, cut into strips of such finesse that they resemble long spaghetti, and he seasons it with soy sauce added with mirin (sweet sake), green onions and dried seaweed.

Katigiri
51, Motoyoshi-cho
Shimbashi-dori
Gion, Higashiyama-Ku
Tel: 075-531-5311.

Tasting a thin slice of Wagyu beef, which is far too often called Kobe beef, is an astounding experience. The word tender is not enough to qualify the silky, melt-in-your-mouth texture of this unique product. Further explanation is needed!

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