Wagyu is a compound word formed of two Japanese ideograms: “WA” (和), which means Japan, and “GYU” (牛), which means beef: so the final meaning is “Japanese beef”. This term is used to describe certain Japanese beef breeds which, through cross-breeding over the centuries and very special breeding methods, produce a meat that is rich in intramuscular fat (the veins of fat in the meat produce the so-called marbling) as well as highly aromatic, sweet and, while hard to believe, healthy.
Wagyu is therefore a category of Japanese beef which includes many types of beef obtained from animals raised in different areas of Japan, including Kobe, Ozaki or Kyushu and Miyabi. Kobe beef does therefore not represent all Wagyu beef, but is a sub-category, Japanese Wagyu beef raised in Kobe.
In other words, as we often say: All Kobe is Wagyu, but not all Wagyu is Kobe.
Meat consumption in Japan is relatively recent, because until after the mid-1800s, for religious and social reasons, it was forbidden to eat four-legged animals and cows were used as beasts of burden.
From 1870, after the commercial ports were opened to foreigners, food habits began to change and people also began to eat beef.
From 1868 to 1910, various European and other species were introduced into Japan, and were cross-bred with Japanese cows, but in the early 20th century when there were too many breeds of cow, this cross-breeding was forbidden.
Since then, insemination is strictly controlled, following rigorous genetic and breeding criteria.
Wagyu beef can be found in various areas of Japan specialising
in breeding these cows: each area gives its own name to the animals and the meat produced.
The most famous in Japan include Wagyu from Miyazaki (Ozak), Hida, Matsusaka, Kobe, Ōmi and others.
Kobe beef comes from Tajima cows born and raised in the Hyogo prefecture which, complying with some precise and highly restrictive rules, has obtained the Kobe trade mark. (visit Kobe page - in italian)
There is no actual breed called “Kobe”, but only after slaughtering the Tajima cows, if the required standards are perfectly met, the meat can receive the mark and be defined as Kobe beef. Every year, only 3,000 heads can receive this mark: so it is easy to understand why this beef is so expensive.
Equally excellent (if not superior in terms of research and final quality) is Ozaki beef, from Kuroge cows raised by Muhenaru Ozaki in the Miyazaki prefecture. It is the only Wagyu beef that takes its name from the breeder and not the breeding area. The animals are reared using pioneering techniques that make the meat tasty and sweet. Furthermore, the marbling means that it melts in the mouth without being oily or greasy.
Beef can be called Wagyu only if the animal is born and reared in Japan, but some farms abroad also use the word Wagyu as the blood line of the farm has a Japanese pure-breed "predecessor".
Some farms can in fact be found in Australia, the United States, China and Italy. However, although this beef is top quality, according to the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, true Wagyu beef comes only from animals raised in Japan, and in this regard has issued a trade mark that can only be placed on Japanese Wagyu beef. This trade mark certifies the fact that the beef in question comes from authentic beef born and raised in Japanese with certified pedigree.
The beef produced outside Japan cannot be called Wagyu, and in addition it also has rougher marbling, due to the "distant" ties with the pure Japanese Wagyu breed.
NO BEEF CAN USE THE WAGYU MARK IF IT IS RAISED OUTSIDE JAPAN
When we think of Wagyu beef, the first image that springs to mind is certainly a good slice of dark pink meat, filled with white fat veins reminiscent of marble which, in technical language is called “marbling”. However, not all Wagyu beef is the same, and for this reason the Japan Meat Grading Association has created a classification system based first of all on the yield of the animal, i.e. the quantity of high-quality beef on the carcase, from grade A, the highest, to grade C, the lowest, and then on the quality, in terms of marbling, colour and shine of the meat, its consistency, shine and the colour of the fat, graded from 1 to 5 (from lowest to highest).
Ultimately, Wagyu beef is classified according to a system from A1 to A5, where A5 is the highest quality level (and cost).
Another score given is the Beef Marble Score (BMS), which from 1 to 12 indicates the fat to meat ratio. To be qualified as A5, for example, in addition to all the other characteristics, the meat must have a BMS score of at least 8+.
When the meat is assessed, a point in the carcase is taken as a reference and the whole animal is assessed according to this level. In Japan, this point is between the sixth and seventh rib.
There are sixteen cuts in a beef cow, but the most well-known and popular Wagyu beef cuts are sirloin, tenderloin and ribeye: these are the easiest and most tasty cuts, and precisely for this reason are also the most expensive.
Many of our customers have also decided to try the other cuts, which are cheaper but just as tender.
To name but a few, rump is tender with high, extremely uniform marbling and is suited to most types of cooking; chuck rib is tender and has a good consistency, with high marbling, and is ideal for yakiniku, steaks, skewers and sukiyaki; while Chuck Tender is marbled with a light, sweet flavour that becomes stronger when chewed well.
The belly is considered a less noble cut but has a great consistency and a good flavour, due to the high concentration of fat, and is used, for example, to prepare Wagyu hamburgers. We can assure you that once you’ve tried one, you’ll never go back.
Our Wagyu Burgers are a blend of precious Wagyu beef A4/A5 and Piedmontese Fassona. They are extremely juicy, with a buttery consistency and a rich, aromatic flavour.
Another part of Wagyu beef that you mustn’t throw away is the fat. When you have some left over, use it like high-quality butter or lard to prepare lots of recipes, it has a wonderful aroma.
Remember that Wagyu fat is special and that, as it is a mono-unsaturated fat, it is not harmful to human health.
Generally, there are two kinds of Wagyu farmers in Japan: those who raise breeding cows, rearing the calves to 8-10 months before taking them to the animal market, and those who buy the calves at auction and fatten them until they are ready for slaughtering, when they weigh at around 750-760 kg.
Wagyu beef cows are raised according to a strict regime in extremely clean, well-ventilated and comfortable barns.
In the first few weeks of life, the calves are fed on concentrated feed as well as mother’s milk, and from 3 months of age they graze freely on high-quality hay. This way, they develop strong digestive capacities from a young age, which makes them able to eat more easily and without any problem when they move to the fattening phase, at around 8-10 months.
The strict farming methods aim to prevent any kind of stress:
the cows live in very clean barns with sawdust on the floor, which is changed often, they always have spring water available to them (some farms even heat this in the winter) and the feed is of the highest quality. The use of antibiotics is strictly forbidden throughout Japan.
Movement and physical activity are certainly encouraged, and in some farms the animals are massaged and brushed to help the circulation and distribute the subcutaneous fat better. It is said that some farmers even give their cows beer to drink, although it appears that this legend originated around thirty years ago. from an advertisement for a restaurant in which a Tajima cow was given beer to drink.
Everyone knows that Wagyu beef is certainly not the cheapest on the market. A kilo of this meat can cost over €1,000. These costs are justified by the fact that Wagyu beef must meet strict standards in terms of production area, quality, marbling, rearing methods and the animal’s pedigree.
The prices however vary greatly according to the type of Wagyu, the meat grade (A, B or C and levels 1-5) and the chosen cut. As explained, cuts like sirloin, tenderloin and ribeye are more expensive, while other cuts, which are in any case very good, cost a little less.
“Is beef that is so rich in fat good for your health?”. Well, we are happy to say that, even though it is so tasty and succulent, and it’s really not common to enjoy such good food that isn’t a bit bad for you, Wagyu beef isn’t bad for you, quite the contrary!
Wagyu beef is genetically designed to have a lot of intramuscular, peri-muscular and subcutaneous fat, just like other beef varieties, but this is a very special fat. All cows have a gene called Delta-9-Desaturase, which is particularly active in Wagyu cows, which produces an enzyme that converts the fat molecules from stearic acid (saturated fats) to oleic acid (mono-unsaturated fats). Oleic acid is renowned for its benefits on the cardiovascular system, thanks to its antioxidant effects and the ability to maintain normal cholesterol levels in the blood (particularly “bad” cholesterol) and reduce blood pressure values.
According to a study conducted by the Japan Livestock Industry Association, Wagyu beef contains around 50% unsaturated fats. And this high concentration of unsaturated fats is what makes Wagyu beef so tasty and rich in umami.
Today, four main popular meat dishes are prepared with Wagyu beef: sukiyaki, teppanyaki, shabu shabu and yakiniku. Do you know what these are? Let’s find out!
Sukiyaki (すき焼き) is a Japanese dish served nabemono style (鍋物, “things in a pot”), similar to Asian hot-pot.
The dish consists of thinly sliced beef, tofu and vegetables which are put to simmer in a low iron pot in a liquid prepared with soy sauce, sugar and mirin. The food is dipped in a small bowl containing beaten egg before being eaten.
Teppanyaki (鉄板焼き) is a kind of Japanese cuisine developed after the Second World War where a chef uses knives, forks and two spatulas to cook ingredients like beef, lobster and seafood and vegetables on an iron griddle (teppan) and serves the customer at the counter. The customer takes the food directly from the griddle or eats it on a plate.
Shabu shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ), is similar to sukiyaki, but where the meat and vegetables are cooked together and served with different sauces. The ingredients usually include thin strips of beef.
In this preparation, the pan with boiling water or dashi broth is placed in the centre of the table on a hot burner, with various small plates with the ingredients to be cooked arranged around it; the ingredients are then dipped in bowls of ponzu or sesame sauce. The Wagyu is cooked for a few seconds in shabushabu.
Finally, Yakiniku (literally, grilled meat), is a BBQ-style dish inspired by Korean cuisine, where the meat and vegetables (peppers, carrots, mushrooms, onions) are cooked on griddles in the centre of the table.
The typical ingredient is marinaded Wagyu beef, but other types of meat are also used – pork or chicken – as well as fish.
What is the best way to cook Wagyu beef to enjoy the flavour to the full?
Because of its tenderness, thanks to the extraordinary marbling, this delicious beef should be cooked for only a short time, to avoid dissolving the fat too much.
If you cook a Wagyu steak, as soon as you start to smell that typical sweet aroma, turn it over immediately and cook the other side. Wagyu beef also contains fat in the red part, and the melting temperature of fat is very low, so the heat passes quickly into the heart of the steak.
On the other hand, the fat is a very important part of Wagyu and must NEVER be thrown away. If it is left over, it can be used like high-quality butter or lard.
If we’ve made you want to taste authentic Japanese Wagyu beef, remember that you can purchase it on our website, even if you don't work in the catering sector. If you’d like to try it, or if you are already familiar with it and want to repeat the experience, maybe inviting your friends for a meal, find out more about all the Wagyu cuts online in our online store
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