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Luxury Food: What is Wagyu Beef

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Luxury Food: What is Wagyu Beef
Photo Daydreamer / Flickr

Wagyu beef is as highly prized in the west as it is in Japan. But there are so many myths and misconceptions surrounding this magical meat that the truth often gets put out to pasture

First there are the weird and wonderful stories about pampered cattle. According to legend, cows are massaged daily to a relaxing soundtrack of classical music. Then they are fed alcohol. But do cows really like a beer with their Beethoven?

«Old farmers did that,» says David Dojo of ADIRECT, which distributes Ohmi beef in the US and Middle East. «But it’s the same for humans. You drink a little bit of liquor, it’s good for the health and you eat more. But it’s not beer as we would know it. It’s like fermented wheat, a by-product from the beer factory. And the music and massages are more of a PR exercise. It’s a marketing gimmick.»

What matters most according to Dojo is the breed of Japanese cow, the diet and the unique environment in which it is raised. Just as the terroir of the Pyrenees produces exquisite lamb, the clean mountain air, fresh spring water and peaceful environment of the Japanese countryside is what makes wagyu special. The cows are stress-free and happy, which encourages them to eat a rich and carefully monitored diet.

But what’s the difference between wagyu, Kobe and Ohmi beef? It’s all a matter of terroir, with a bit of brand marketing thrown in. Wagyu is the breed, and Kobe or Ohmi is the area where the cows are raised. The meat differs according to the environment and farming practices of each area, and the brand is created around it.

But are you really eating Kobe beef in your local Japanese restaurant in London or New York? It’s most unlikely. Genuine wagyu from Kobe is rarely exported from Japan, so the chances are that you’re tucking into a ‘Kobe-style‘ steak from Australia or the US. Still far better than your average steak, but not quite the real deal.

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