Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Kobe and Wagyu Beef

Today's Washington Post Style section features its annual The List, which declares what is "in" and what is "out" in 2008. According to the Post, Kobe beef is "out," but Wagyu beef (pictured above) is "in."

So exactly what is the difference between Kobe and Wagyu beef? I did some googling and stumbled upon this web page from Tripod. The web page offers this distinction:
Kobe beef comes from a breed of cattle called Wagyu. In order to earn the designation/appellation of "Kobe Beef", the Wagyu beef must come from Kobe,
Japan, and meet rigid production standards imposed in that prefecture.

. . . The "Wagyu beef" designation can legally be applied to the meat from any cattle of the Wagyu breed; it's a genetic thing, not a place appellation or a reference to how the cattle were raised and fed. This breed is genetically predisposed to intense marbling, and produces a higher percentage of oleaginous, unsaturated fat than any other breed of cattle known in the world.
In other words, it's like the difference between a rectangle and a square. All Kobe beef is Wagyu beef, but not all Wagyu beef is Kobe beef.

The writer of this web page shares his frustration at the difficulty of purchasing Wagyu beef on this side of the Pacific, even though there are American cattle ranches that produce Wagyu.
Annoyingly, when we in America want to purchase Wagyu, we have one of two options: we can buy it shipped back over from Japan at some insane cost per pound that includes two transoceanic fares, or we can try to track down an independent Wagyu rancher who will sell one carcass. This is harder than you think.

. . . I finally succeeded in finding a small, independent producer who was sincerely interested in marketing Wagyu beef in America, and I am purchasing one carcass (and a heck of a deep freezer). I plan to give out samples to many, many chef friends of mine, and encourage them to buy carcasses, and encourage local gourmet stores to begin carrying the stuff — at a reasonable price, which we can get if I start putting together a good large order.
This all made me rather curious so I did some surfing and discovered this website for Lobel's American Wagyu. It warns visitors to think twice before buying beef that is advertised as Wagyu, but sells for about $30 per pound. From what I learned, the "good stuff" apparently sells for at least $100 per pound.

At that price, I'll be watching from the sidelines.

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