Japanese beef or Wagyu (literally ‘Japanese cow’), as it is popularly known, has built a name for itself globally with its superior marbling that spreads like spider webs through the meat, fat quality, succulence and colour. But not all Wagyu are created equal – there are, of course, different grades and breeds. Even the region that the beef originates from plays a part, due to the varied landscapes and each prefecture’s producers’ breeding and caring methods.
There are four main breeds of Japanese domestic cattle – Japanese Brown (also known as Japanese Red), Japanese Shorthorn, Japanese Polled, and Japanese Black (which accounts for 90 percent of all Wagyu). The top three Wagyu in Japan are derived from the Japanese Black and are dubbed Sandai Wagyu, which means the ‘three big beefs’:
Probably the most well-known of the three, Kobe beef from Hyogo Prefecture comes from a subspecies of Japanese Black cattle called Tajima and is the first Wagyu brand that was promoted overseas, thanks to Kobe’s popular port. • OHMI
This comes from an older strain of Japanese Black cattle bred in Shiga Prefecture and boasts a smooth, sweet taste and very fine meat grain.
Only applies to Tajima cattle that have not given birth and are raised in and around Matsusaka City in Mie Prefecture, such as in Fukano Valley. Cows are fed beer and even receive massages – such pampering gives rise to Matsusaka beef’s high fat to meat ratio and superbly mellow flavour.
Japanese Wagyu is graded according to a Beef Marbling Standard (BMS), which looks at the meat yield (A to C for most to least) and the quality of marbled fat (1 to 5 for lowest to highest). On top of Sandai Wagyu, there are also speciality brands and products such as Iwate beef and Toriyama Umami Wagyu. The former is derived from Japanese Shorthorn cattle and characterised by its leanness, yet still retains remarkable tenderness and taste. Toriyama Wagyu is the product of Makoto Toriyama and his cousin Wataru. Instead of focusing on Japan’s BMS, they increase their grain-fed herd’s umami levels through optimised production management. The result is a saporous meat that sends your palate’s umami receptors through the roof. More recently, another novel creation has come into the spotlight: snow-aged Wagyu from Niigata. Beef is slow-aged in yukimoro
(refrigeration sheds covered in snow), which maintains a stable 1 to 2°C temperature and approximately 90 percent humidity in order for the meat to mature and bring out a delicious sweetness and mellowness.
Japanese Wagyu Sirloin