What is Wagyu?
Wagyu (pronounced ‘wag-you’) is a breed of cattle native and unique in their genetics to Japan. The Japanese word Wagyu can be translated to mean Japanese beef – as ‘wa’ means Japanese and ‘gyu’ means beef. These cattle are vigilantly guarded by Japanese farmers who have inherited the genetics from their ancestors and see it as their duty to protect this natural treasure for future generations.
The three most famous breeding strains – Tajima from Hyogo Prefecture, Itozakura from Shimane Prefecture, and Kedaka from Tottori Prefecture – in Japan.
Wagyu beef is highly marbled, meaning that the muscle is finely interspersed with monounsaturated fat. This marbling gives the beef its “melt in the mouth” moisture and tenderness. When cooked, the marbling is absorbed into the muscle and gives the meat its tenderness and flavour.
Many outside of Japan have attempted to document the history of Wagyu cattle. When it has been reported in Japan that performance was being sought through genetic gain, it has been widely interpreted by Westerners as being beef production, when in actual fact it was performance as a draft or pack animal.
In the mid 1980′s, Japanese Professor Kiyoshi Namikawa, a leading Wagyu expert, embarked on an ambitious plan to document the history of the Japanese Black cattle breed (Wagyu) in Japan. After meeting Professor Namikawa, David Blackmore was presented with an English version translated by Professor Namikawa.
In 1988, David Blackmore discovered two purebred Wagyu females at a research facility (Granada) affiliated with Texas A & M University in the United States. The sire lines had been exported to the USA for research into meat quality in 1976.
In 1992, during trade discussions between the Japanese government and the US government it was decided to allow the first ever, live Fullblood Japanese Wagyu females to be exported out of Japan. Through his strong relationship with Japanese Wagyu breeders, David Blackmore secured the exclusivity of these genetics and imported a large number of embryos and semen into Australia for Australian clients. The largest group of cattle belonged to one of Japan’s premier breeders Mr. Shogo Takeda.
The cattle are known as Japanese Fullblood and are recognized around the world as the only cattle containing no introduction of inferior genes.
From 1992 to 2006, David Blackmore has imported more than 80% of the Japanese Fullblood Wagyu genetics into Australia and has produced his own 100% Japanese Fullblood Wagyu cattle herd with more than 3000 animals.
The quality and flavour of Wagyu meat is different from any other type of beef. Some may describe the beef as having a smooth caramel/buttery flavour that is intensely sweet and delicate. This tenderness and flavour results in 100% Fullblood Wagyu delivering an unparallelled eating experience.
Characteristically, Wagyu beef is highly marbled. This means that the muscle is finely interspersed with fat that is an ‘intra-muscular’ deposit of energy. This marbling has been found to contain monounsaturated fats, and research has shown that these fats can assist in reducing cholesterol levels in the body.
When cooked, the marbling is absorbed into the muscle and gives the meat its texture, tenderness and flavour. The marbling reappears once the meat is cooled. The monounsaturated fatty acids have a very low melting point, which results in the beef literally ‘melting in your mouth’.
Prior to Wagyu entering the Australian market, the Australian meat grading system was 0 to 6, with the best of the Australian breeds including Angus, averaging approximately 2. Since the introduction of Wagyu into Australia, the Australian grading system has been increased to 9.
Wagyu beef is increasingly being offered in restaurants and gourmet butcheries around Australia as a luxury product.
In Australia, any product that has 50% or more Wagyu genetics can be labelled as Wagyu. Premium Wagyu will contain 100% Wagyu genetics, and until regulations relating to product labels in Australia are clearer, the consumer needs to rely on the integrity and reputation of each brand.