Wagyu meat epitomizes possibly the highest-quality beef in the world. It is famous for its distinctive marbling and mouth-watering flavor. However, it is also notoriously expensive, owing to its particular breeding conditions and strict quality requirements.
What It Takes To Be “Wagyu”
Wagyu is a Japanese word that means “Japanese beef” or “Japanese cattle.” Yet, not all Japanese beef can be classified as Wagyu. Wagyu beef can only come from four breeds — namely, Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Shorthorn, and Japanese Polled. In fact, Japanese Black is the breed that people most commonly associate with Wagyu beef.
The origin of the breeds dates back to the late 19th century. The Japanese had previously used the native cattle mainly for agricultural purposes. However, crossbreeding it with imported European cattle resulted in improved breeds that had better-quality milk and meat. Among those breeds, four types have proven superior to both their native Japanese and foreign ancestry, and bear the name Wagyu today.
There are numerous Wagyu brands. Some of the most well-known are Kobe, Matsusaka, and Ohmi beef. They all originate from the Kansai region of Japan and are derived from premium Tajima beef, a breed of Japanese Black cattle.
The Grading Requirements
According to the Japan Meat Grading Association, Wagyu beef has to comply with a strict grading system.
First, they grade the meat in terms of yield and give it grade A, B, or C. The highest grade is A, which means that the meat/weight ratio has to be equal to or higher than 72%. Next, they assess the quality of the meat based on four criteria — marbling, color, firmness, and fat. The meat then gets a grade on a scale from 1 to 5, where 5 is the highest.
Together, those two grades give the final score — C1 is the worst, and A5 is the best-quality Wagyu beef.
The Unique Wagyu Taste
Wagyu beef is famous for its umami-rich and juicy texture. The fat is distributed evenly in the muscle and melts at temperatures as low as 14°C — meaning that it literally melts in your mouth! For this reason, it is best that you cook this meat briefly and consume it rare or medium rare.
The origin of the Wagyu meat and its strict grading criteria ensure that the final product is a tender, savory delicacy as luxurious as black truffles or caviar. So, it should come as no surprise that the price reaches triple digits per pound. But trust us when we say that it is worth every penny!