In the world of foodie obsession, it doesn’t come much more luxurious than the holy grail of carnivorous indulgence – Wagyu beef.
The myths and rumours surrounding the production process behind Wagyu are the stuff of legend; farmers are said to massage, sing to and even serve up ice cold beer for the revered animals. Commanding up to £500 a kilo, just what makes this premium cut so special, and how can it deserve such an insane price tag?
Hailing from Japan, “Wagyu” refers to the overarching breed of Japanese cattle, with differing strains producing several variations (and price tags). Meat from the Kobe region for example is considered to be the most exclusive, with legal regulations and guidelines governing its production and grading. The premium grade beef can command astronomical prices, with Michelin star restaurants around the world serving up tiny slithers to the most discerning (and exclusive) of diners.
Wagyu cattle are raised in a luxurious fashion, with specifically tailored diets and lifestyles. Slaughtered at three years old (eighteen months longer than traditional techniques), the extended lifespan of the Wagyu herd makes the production process an expensive one to say the least. A five star upkeep and diet combined with the increased lifespan of the Wagyu cow mean this premium herd are an expensive house guest.
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Although not all Wagyu rumours are true, cows are indeed in some instances fed beer in order to stimulate appetite, and some farmers do routinely massage their cows in order to relieve stress, which can (many believe) toughen the meat.
Wagyu beef is instantly recognizable due to its heavily marbled appearance, and it’s the presence of Intramuscular fat (signature to the Wagyu breed) which gives the meat its unique markings and melt in the mouth texture.
The mono-unsaturated to saturated fat ratio is far higher in Wagyu than in other beef, and it's these fats disintegrating during cooking which provides Waygu with its signature rich and powerful flavor.
While the most exclusive Waygu is said to hail from Japan, British farmers are now also producing the exclusive meat to an incredibly high standard. Until June 2014, the importation of Japanese beef was forbidden in the UK, so the production of European Wagyu flourished. Herds of Japanese Wagyu cattle were introduced to Britain in 1996, and farmers such as Ifor Humphreys began trading the world’s most exclusive cut.
Ifor raises his heard of Japananese Black Wagyu in rural Wales on his family farm, were his cows live a life full of green fields and the occasional tipple. While in its infancy (especially in comparison to its Japanese counterparts), the arguments for British Wagyu are clear, Ifor believes, with the environment and accountability a key concern.
“Wagyu production in Britain is well behind several countries, but we’re catching up. We offer less food miles, high welfare standards, total traceability and provenance.”
Ifor’s herd live a blissful life, where the family adhere to one of the Japanese manufacturers most unusual wagyu production techniques.
“Japanese tradition has it that their cows were fed beer to stimulate their appetite in hot weather. I’ve adopted and adapted this tradition and feed Monty’s beer (my local brewery) to my Wagyu as part of their daily finishing ration. They really love it.”