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Who knows how often you must have spotted “Kobe beef” among the dishes being presented on steakhouse menus. The waiter will have talked you into trying it by praising its gourmet qualities and you may have ordered it on trust despite its exorbitant price. So, you will probably be unpleased to learn that the meat in question may not have been real Kobe at all, but probably Wagyu which is very similar. For most consumers, even the most fanatical foodies, it is actually difficult to recognize authentic Kobe meat and for this reason it's useful to know a few facts and questions to ask your waiter in the interests of palate and purse.
The term wagyu – deriving from wa=Japanese and gyu=beef – refers to a category of beef that comprises of four different breeds of cattle, although only those bred in the mountainous region of Tajima are considered thoroughbreds, carrying the prized Kobe label. The cattle feed off milk, grass, maize and rice straw and drink the purest water, all helping give the meat its unique qualities.
After finding out where your Kobe actually comes from, one of the first questions to ask is about the fat marbling ratio of the beef. The quality of a cut is defined by its marbling, the presence of fat (shimofuri) in the connective tissue, which is measured on a scale from 6 to 12.
Another important thing to know is that the meat must be from a cow that has never given birth or a castrated bull (steer). Don’t forget to ask which cut you are going to be served: Kobe fillet for example costs almost twice as much as other cuts which are just as tasty.
In our efforts to get to know this prized meat better, we have spoken to one of the most qualified experts in Italy, Massimo Minutelli, who is the owner of three restaurants renowned for serving some of the most famous meat varieties in the world. Two of these venues are in Tuscany, in Lucca and Pisa to be precise, whilst the third and most recently inaugurated is located in Milan, all going under the name of "La Griglia di Varrone".
Minutelli was the first ever to have imported Kobe meat to Italy through Giraudi, the Monte Carlo-based company which, for half a century, has been on the tracks of the best meat varieties from different countries and has made them known all over the world: it actually imports 90,000 tons of meat to Europe every year. The trade agreement on Kobe beef imports was only signed in the summer of 2013, and the first supplies arrived one year later, so if you think you have eaten authentic Kobe meat in Italy before that date, you must be wrong.
Minutelli confirms that:"To be classified as true Kobe beef, the animal must be raised within the boundaries of the Hyogo city prefecture: just think that they have been raising cattle in the same way since 1200. The meat must have a fat marbling ratio from 6 to 12, but even the lowest is sublime. I have chosen to present this rarity in Milan first of all, also in anticipation of the many foreigners who will be visiting the city for Expo Milano 2015. I cut it into slices and place it for a few instants on a very hot grid: no other seasoning is needed. At the very most, a few flakes of Maldon salt. Admittedly, the price is high, about 90 Euros per portion, but in return I can promise the most incredible gourmet experience of your life”..
And this is no exaggeration: when you place it on your tongue and press it against your palate the meat just melts in the mouth. The fat, even though there is quite a lot of it, dissolves leaving your taste buds clean and dry. This is because it is a noble, unsaturated intramuscular fat, a fat very rich in oleic acid and low in cholesterol, in other words, healthier than that of other meat which deposits mainly around the edges.